Navajo Nation lawmakers debate position on hydraulic fracking

A Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company operation in Montezuma, Utah. Photo from Dooda Fracking / Facebook

The Navajo Nation might be taking a stand against fracking.

The Navajo Nation Council is debating legislation that would establish the tribe's opposition to hydraulic fracturing. Lawmakers expressed concerns about impacts of the controversial energy-processing technique at a meeting on Monday.

“During the Naabik’íyáti’ Committee meeting last week, we received a report from consultants from the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company who provided information regarding the benefits of fracturing, however, they failed to report adverse effects of this evasive method on the land,” said Delegate Jonathan Hale, according to a press release.

The Navajo Nation Council's Health, Education, and Human Services Committee approved the bill, which still must be considered by the Resources and Development Committee. But Hale noted that Legislation No. 0121-16 will not outlaw fracking on the reservation.

According to the press release, Delegate Nelson S. BeGaye suggested putting a moratorium on fracking in the bill while the impacts are examined. But Hale said his primary goal was to start a discussion on the practice.

“The verbiage was put out there, but I wanted to see who would come out of the woodwork and support this. We are the lawmakers and we have to talk about this issue openly,” Hale said. “We also have to consult our medicine people to get their views on this issue – it is a community concern.”

Tribal citizen groups like Dooda Fracking and Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment oppose fracking on the reservation. They say it wastes scarce water resources, exposes the environment to pollution and contributes to high rates of violence against women and girls.

Some tribes, like the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, have already taken a stand against fracking. But others, like the Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Tribe, have asserted their right to use the technique on their lands.

Both of those tribes, along with the Coalition of Large Tribes -- a group to which the Navajo Nation belongs and for which President Russell Begaye serves as vice president -- are opposing a Bureau of Land Management rule that imposes fracking standards in Indian Country.

The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the U.S. in terms of acreage so a position against fracking, or a moratorium on the practice, would represent a significant decision.

Federal Register Notice:
Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands (March 26, 2015)

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