Op-Ed | Key issue behind helium veto
By James McClure
Editor’s note: Mr. James McClure is the CEO of Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company.
May we stop the distortion of facts?
I understand a campaign across the Navajo Nation to pass chapter resolutions opposing helium development is in motion.
During the 25th Navajo Nation Council winter session, I heard a speaker distort details of helium production. I ask Council delegates and chapter officials to demand factual information from both sides of the debate because I have seen many untruths in this paper and on social media concerning helium exploration and production. I’d like to address a few:
- Helium is uranium.
- Helium development requires surface mining.
- Fracking is required to produce helium, and millions of gallons of water will be used.
- Fresh water will be poisoned with helium drilling and production, and the land and air will be contaminated with the flaring of argon.
- Helium production will harm the health of Navajo Nation citizens.
- Investors of helium only care about money.
Let me start with No. 6 because our effort is much greater than the money.
As a non-Navajo running Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, NNOGC, a Navajo Nation entity, it is understood that I am an outsider. However, my primary mission in running a Navajo business is to raise royalty revenue for the Navajo Nation.
Revenue helps pay for essential services in the Nation, including salaries for first responders, road maintenance, waste management, and support of a functioning government that allocates funds to various initiatives.
Without these essential services, the Navajo Nation would struggle to function, and many jobs would be cut. Furthermore, helium is used in many industries that support humanity, and MRI machines and semiconductors for your phone or computer top the list. So, helium exploration is about much more than money.
I believe in sharing royalty dollars with local chapters and communities impacted by oil or gas extraction; however, the decision rests with the Navajo Nation government.
NNOGC has focused on oil and natural gas developments, pipeline operations, and convenience stores throughout its history. During the fiscal April 2021 to March 2022, NNOGC and our partners generated over $30 million in royalty revenue for the Navajo Nation. We recently brought on two new oil wells and expect two more to go online soon and increase annual royalties by 25%.
As some have suggested, this is a significant portion of the budget, so it cannot be ignored or eliminated. If NNOGC is allowed to develop helium in the Navajo Nation, we believe over $1 billion of royalty revenue could be achieved during the life of production.
NNOGC worked to have helium legislation considered by the Navajo Nation Council and Executive Branch. The outgoing president vetoed a positive vote by the Council. The key issue behind the veto appears to be the impacts. Therefore, let me address more of the untruths.
Untruth No. 1: Helium is uranium.
Helium is not uranium. Helium is element No. 2 on the periodic table of elements, and uranium is element No. 92. They are two distinct elements. The scare tactics on this matter are alarming and false. Helium is a product of the thermal decay of uranium and thorium. Still, this process occurs thousands of miles beneath the earth’s crust, and only helium migrates to geologic traps for production. This isn’t our opinion; it’s science.
Untruth No. 2: Helium development requires surface mining.
Helium is not surface mined but extracted from a geologic depth many thousands of feet below the surface. The process involves drilling a small hole like a water well drilling.
Untruth No. 3: Fracking is required to produce helium; millions of gallons of water will be used.
First, fracking is not required in every oil or gas well, and it depends upon the geologic attributes of the rock. Second, fracking is not used for helium extraction in the Navajo Nation; therefore, we will not use millions of gallons of water as one group claims.
Untruth No. 4: Fresh water will be poisoned with helium drilling and production, and the land and air will be contaminated with the flaring of argon.
During production, the risk to fresh water will be managed with steel casing strings and cement sheaths to provide a barrier between any fresh water-bearing zone and production. This is the standard procedure used worldwide to prevent water damage, and NNOGC has extensive experience in this area.
Claims of flaring argon are not true. Argon is an inert, non-toxic, noncombustible gas not present in our gas stream.
Untruth No. 5: Helium production will harm the health of Navajo Nation citizens.
Helium is an inert gas with no reactive capability and will not impact the health of Navajo Nation citizens. NNOGC has been very supportive of funding health impact studies to be completed as a baseline before any operation and during the life of production.
The opposition may attack my comments, but I stand behind my 35-plus years of experience in the exploration and production industry.