A recent study of oil and gas methane emissions on the Navajo Nation reveals companies operating on tribal lands pollute 65% more than the national average, wasting millions in tribal resources every year and underscoring the opportunity for tribal leaders to reduce emissions.
The analysis, conducted by Environmental Defense Fund and released in conjunction with Grand Canyon Trust, Dinè CARE, and Native American Voters Alliance, quantifies the volume of natural gas burned off, vented, or leaked from oil and gas production on Navajo lands. It found that companies are wasting about 5.2% of their natural gas, generating about 13,000 tons of methane pollution.
These emissions not only drive climate damage, they also negatively affect the local economy. The natural gas lost on tribal lands is valued at about $3.4 million per year and causes the Navajo Nation, where 38% of residents live in poverty, to lose up to $850,000 a year in royalty revenue.
Methane has made headlines in New Mexico and across the Four Corners region ever since a NASA satellite survey first identified a methane hotspot—the largest of its kind in the country and the size of Delaware—over the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico in 2014. In subsequent years, additional scientific investigation has confirmed that the area’s emissions primarily stem from oil and gas production.
The oil and gas operators producing from Navajo Nation lands are no exception to the trend of significant waste. And this emissions problem also creates a major climate concern because methane is responsible for about 25% of the global warming seen today.
Neglectful oil and gas production management also creates a serious health problem for local communities. Methane is the main component of natural gas, but emissions from oil and gas production also contain toxic gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, toluene, xylene, and benzene, as well as volatile organic compounds, which are precursors to ozone, the main component of smog and an irritant that can harm the respiratory system.
This is particularly relevant for the Navajo Nation, as San Juan County, New Mexico, is close to surpassing health safety limits on ozone pollution.
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