January 23, 2023
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez all in black takes pictures with a group of workers from the Blue Hydrogen Technology Facility in Farmington, N.M., on Aug. 18, 2021. (Tribal Radio \ Crystal Ashike)

Navajo Nation President Nez vetoes helium extraction on last day in office

KSUT | By Clark Adomaitis

The Navajo Nation Council approved the extraction of helium at two sites in Arizona and New Mexico on Dec. 29, 2022. Activists lobbied President Nez to oppose the bill, and he issued the veto on Jan. 9, his last day in office.

Helium comes from uranium decaying deep in the earth. Helium then rises and is trapped in pockets close to the surface. The legislation would have allowed companies to drill helium wells some five or 6000 feet deep.

But activists are concerned about the history of uranium mining on tribal land,which left behind cancer and other health consequences that are still being felt by Navajo people. Elouise Brown, is with the group Dooda-NO Helium.

"Uranium kills people. Helium is from rotten and decayed uranium. So my message was are we that stupid? Are we crazy to allow helium after all our relatives have passed on from uranium exposure?"

The two companies that want to extract helium insist that no uranium will contaminate the environment. A spokesman for Navajo Nation Oil & Gas says rich reserves of helium in the region could lead to a windfall for the tribe–an estimated $100 million in royalties over 7-10 years.

In the coming months, these companies will lobby newly-elected government officials. Activists have vowed to fight the projects.

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