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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Navajos’On The Line’In Natural Gas Dispute

by Bobbie Hart O’NeillThe Navajo Nation is between a rock and a hard place right now in its dispute with El Paso Natural Gas out of Houston, Texas to extend a lease that allows the Texas based corporation pivotal natural gas pipeline that crosses several hundred miles of tribal land.   On one side, the tribe wants fair compensation from the company to the tune of $440 million to reach a deal to extend a 20 year right of way lease that allows the pipeline operator to ship 3.3 billion cubic feet on a daily basis to customers in New Mexico, Arizona and California. The company is offering more than $200 million in cash and other considerations.   On the other side of the coin are the thousands of Navajo tribal members who depend on the natural gas shipped through the El Paso pipeline to heat their homes and winter is on its way.   Currently, El Paso is continuing to use the pipeline with out a deal extension. Company officials say the talks are at an impasse and management has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to step and broker a deal. They believe Interior has an obligation to extend the right-of-way under the tribe’s 1868 treaty with the United States, and wish to avoid a conflict with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which issued a license for use of the pipeline.   Enter Louis Denetsosie, the Navajo Nation’s attorney general who was appointed to his position two years ago by Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr. He is seeking an end to the dispute between the tribe and El Paso Gas which boils down to the basic fact that the Navajos want more money than the El Paso is willing to pay.   According to Denetsosie,”El Paso is in trespass right now, so they could be subject to action. The deadline has passed but the natural gas continues to flow.”   Denetsosie works closely with the tribal government’s resources committee to plot the Navajo’s next step. “It’s a tricky line to navigate,” he said.   The tribe has the option of asking the federal government to declare that El Paso is improperly using the pipeline without a lease, but Denetsosie said that is an unlikely course of action as the tribe wants to make certain there is no interruption in service.   “The regulations call for fair value,” Denetsosie added. “What we would like is for a rate to be established (by the Feds) and have El Paso pay it to the tribe.”This column has been edited for length and content from an October 24th article in The Arizona Republic bylined Ken Alltucker.

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