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Navajo Nation Council considers expanding helium exploration on reservation

Navajo Helium
Navajo Nation Council
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Speaker Seth Damon, members of the Navajo Nation Council and executives from the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. recently met with community members in Sanostee, N.M. about possible expanded helium development in the area. It could bring needed economic development and revenue to the tribe, but concerns linger about possible environmental and health impacts.

The Navajo Nation Council is considering a bill to expand helium extraction on the reservation. Tribal leaders are eager to create revenue and jobs after recent coal mining losses.

The bill would approve agreements for two projects north of Gallup, N.M., and one west of Chinle, Ariz., proposed by the tribally owned Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co.

Council Speaker Seth Damon is its sponsor and says the projects would generate jobs, economic development and much-needed annual revenue.

"Sanostee Chapter and the Northern Agency can expect new economic development opportunities with improved support services. This legislation is a necessary investment into the future for the next seven generations,” said Damon in a press release.

The tribe lost tens of millions of dollars in 2019 after the closure of the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine.

Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, however, has called for further dialogue on the possible public health impacts of extraction.

"Many of our families in the area are still dealing with the trauma of uranium mining, so there are always concerns about any type of natural resource extraction," said Kanazbah Crotty in a release.

The Navajo Nation has produced helium for decades along with oil and gas. But company executives say there are dozens more possible sites that could eventually generate a billion dollars for the tribe and royalties for local chapters and youth scholarships.

The nearby Holbrook Basin in eastern Arizona is thought to have some of the largest helium reserves in the U-S. But some residents and environmental groups have raised concerns about how certain extraction methods could impact the environment and water resources.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.