Pilot project on Navajo Nation will convert methane into hydrogen

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Navajo Nation is hopeful a pilot project south of Bluff in San Juan County will help transform the state’s poorest county by delivering new jobs and producing a commodity it can sell on the market.

Beyond its economic punch, the project will deliver environmental benefits by taking a wasted stream of methane gas flared from the Tohonadla Oil Field and transform it into hydrogen.

“I see the Navajo Nation being a leader in hydrogen production,” said Dory Peters, president and CEO of Big Navajo Energy.

Peters was one of several people at a Monday press conference at the state Capitol to detail the pilot project and its next steps.

“The Navajo Nation sees the vision,” Peters said. “Our intent is to be one of the largest hydrogen producers.”

Peters was joined by William D. McCabe, technology officer with Navajo Nation Oil and Gas, Inc., Johnpaul Quick, CEO of H2GO, Laura Nelson, Gov. Gary Herbert’s energy adviser and director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development as well as Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, who represents San Juan County.

“It’s a monumental, unique event that we are here to celebrate,” Nelson said. “It is really a story of innovation.”

McCabe said the Navajo Nation has been long considered an energy tribe, with one third of the nation’s disposable income derived from natural resource extraction such as oil and gas development and coal mining.

The so-called stranded gasses, aside from being bad for the environment, are a lost source of revenue, he said.

“It is a resource that is going up in smoke, if you will. Now we are able to capture this and convert it into the fuel of the future,” he said, adding that the project is in the design phase now, but in a few months will be capturing the gas.

Hinkins also extolled the benefits of hydrogen as a clean fuel source that will be increasingly turned to for vehicle fleets.

He pointed to Nikola Motor, which got its start in Utah and is now in Arizona, and its development of a hydrogen-electric semi truck.

Anheuser-Busch made its first delivery with one of the trucks last week and has an order for 800 of the zero-emission trucks in its goal to reduce 25% of its carbon footprint by 2025.

McCabe said the Navajo Nation has 60 convenience stores that he hopes will carry the hydrogen fuel.

Peters added the project fits into the desire by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to create green space and a clean energy economy.

“This offers clean solutions for our people of the Navajo Nation,” Peters said.

Ultimately, the desire is to capture all flared methane — an estimated 80,000 cubic feet per day that is a wasted stream of revenue.

The nation produces about 15,000 barrels of oil per day.

McCabe said there’s an estimated 3 to 5 billion barrels of oil, 2 to 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 6 billion cubic feet of helium in the ground of the Navajo Nation — a resource that will provide 50 years of development opportunity.

The announcement of the pilot project was made in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

“It’s about tribal self determination,” Nelson said.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.


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