Pressure on Navajo Nation to Exploit Helium Reserves
B.I.A. IRMP and Minerals
In a 2015 presentation on the Navajo Nation's Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP) hosted by the Regional B.I.A. Forester, there was a presentation by the Navajo Nation Minerals Department that included a map identifying "oil and gas potential" all along the eastern side of the Chuska Mountains. Following this information and other concerning natural resource management proposals in the IRMP, Diné C.A.R.E. began presenting a resolution, passed at several chapters, calling for community education and input, requesting that the BIA and the Natural Resource Division include the full cumulative and ecological impact that would result from commercial timber harvesting and resource extraction activities in the Chuskas.
Fracking in the Chuskas
By 2017, Diné C.A.R.E. began hearing from community residents that fracking was occurring in the Chuskas, specifically in Red Valley at the Dineh Bi Keyah field (DBK). Additionally, we observed busy oil and gas operators in Red Valley, and we investigated further. We discovered that they were fracking for helium. Over the next few months, we met with local Red Valley residents who expressed frustration and worry over increased oil and gas operations in their community. We requested information and met with petroleum engineers, hard rock mineral experts, geologists, botanists, oil well technicians, as well as Navajo Nation, federal, and state representatives from different agencies. Information and communication from these representatives and agencies to date has been insufficient and didn’t resolve obvious problems and concerns that Diné Chuska mountain residents raised.
DBK Field Tours and Documenting
By early 2018, Diné C.A.R.E. began hosting field tours at the Dineh Bi-keyah Field (DBK) in the Navajo community of Red Valley, AZ, Navajo Nation. We invited the organization Earthworks to document and record the emissions that were coming from the oil wells in the DBK field with their industry standard Forward Looking Infra-red (FLIR) Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) camera, which detects up to 20 different emissions, some of which are not detectable to the human eye or nose. Emissions include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), methane, H2S, and other hydrocarbons. These gases are a known human and environmental health hazard. They are toxic and deadly depending on the amount and duration a person is exposed to them. Even just a trace amount of H2S is instantly fatal.
Emission Complaints and Air Samples
In 2019 and 2021 we took two rounds of air samples and had them analyzed at independent laboratories. The results were dramatic and sobering, with clear risks to health for anyone exposed to pollution at or near the sites. (See Sampling Summary of the air sample analysis results under resources.)
We filed complaints with U.S. and Navajo Nation regulatory agencies at EPA, BLM, BIA, and Navajo Resource Division and Minerals Department, documenting pollutant levels that exceeded Texas Council on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ) 2020 list of Effects Screening Levels.
We have worked with local & national media to share information about what is happening in Red Valley. See this article in Investigate West: Idle Oil, gas wells threaten Indian Tribes While Energy Companies, Regulators Do Little
We hired a researcher to document the history of the DBK Field and helium on Navajo Nation. Four reports, two public education handouts, and one factsheet was created. (Find copies under resources.)
Community Organizing and Documenting
There is pressure on Navajo Nation to redrill and expand helium operations across Navajo communities, including in places where it wasn’t done before. The impacts of helium drilling will cause long-term harm to land and water. Helium is extracted the same way oil and gas is extracted. More often these days, it is hydraulic fracturing (fracking), also known as horizontal or unconventional drilling. In the process of oil and gas extraction, everything comes to the surface: methane, oil, brine, including the release of many toxic and deadly gases like hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and (H2S) hydrogen sulfide.
Diné communities will have to consider the long-term negative impacts to land, people, and sacred places. As water and climate effects intensify across Diné Bikéyah, the consequences of helium fracking are too heavy a price for future generations to pay. Organizing and public education are key to protecting Diné communities. Additionally, we strongly recommend that communities document incidents. Complaints should be filed with Navajo EPA, U.S. EPA, and BLM. Document when you see emissions or spills, or detect smells from oil and gas wells and equipment.