Early in May, The Daily Times was on scene at a public hearing to discuss energy development on tribal lands owned by Navajo Nation. In attendance were four members of the Navajo National Council.
The hearing garnered mixed reviews as some pointed to the negative health and environmental impacts hydraulic fracturing would have on tribal lands. On the other side of the coin, some advocates proposed this activity would lead to increased job creation and accelerated economic growth.
The main concerns expressed by attendees were compromised air and water quality for both human and livestock.
The Counselor Chapter House was full with dozens of tribal and non-tribal members during the all-day hearing. The session was organized due to an earlier bill passed in March by the Naa’bik’íyáti’ Committee. In the bill, the committee petitioned the United Nations to come in and conduct independent studies on the effects of hydraulic fracturing.
The Counselor Health Assessment Committee’s representative, Teresa Seamster, has also stated that the local group now has sufficient funding to conduct new tests.
Nageezi Chapter resident, Delora Hesuse, is a strong advocate of oil and gas drilling and believes that this activity would create positive changes in the local economy. Still, she also stated that drilling should be authorized by individual land owners.
A member of the New Mexico Business Association Coalition, Larry Sonntag, is also a supporter, citing that oil and gas drilling not only benefits the local economy, but also state and educational programs as well.
While studies by the local committee and the UN are pending, The American Lung Association has concluded that the air quality is clean. Lauren Howland of the Nageezi Chapter does not agree and articulated her disdain for the industry by highlighting her sister’s chronic asthma as a result of poor air quality.
Her brother, Alex Howland, was also in attendance and revealed that in 2015, a European research group found high levels of methane in the air. The group concluded it was due to natural gas extraction, coal mining, and other fracking activities.
Clifton Horace, a member of the Four Corners Economic Development thinks it’s in the community’s best interest to diversify streams of income and to not solely rely on oil and gas. If coal mining in the county were to end entirely, native tribes would have to deal with a 60% loss of funding and the state’s $63 million backing would be reversed.
The House Speaker determined that all comments would be reviewed and that inclusions would be made to the existing bill by May 25.