University of Colorado at Boulder
BMP of Oil and Gas Development

Navajo Nation Laws

The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States, covering northeastern Arizona and parts of southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico.

The regulatory scheme includes the Navajo Nation Environmental Policy Act, Navajo Nation Clean Water Act, Surface Water Quality Standards, Navajo Nation Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, and the Navajo Oil and Gas Code. In many ways, these regulations are comparable to their federal counterparts. Summaries of the federal laws may be found at the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project Law & Policy page. This page highlights the differences between the federal and tribal laws.

Navajo Nation Environmental Policy Act

One of the key differences between the Navajo Nation Environmental Policy Act and the federal act is that the Navajo Nation Act includes an emphasis on preserving sites of cultural and religious importance. Other relevant provisions include:

903. Purposes -The Navajo Nation shall employ its governmental authority pursuant to section 2 hereof, using all practicable means consistent with other essential governmental functions, for the following purposes:

  1. To fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations;
  2. To assure for all residents of and visitors to the Navajo Nation a safe, healthful, productive, aesthetically pleasing and culturally appropriate environment;
  3. To promote to the fullest extent practicable recycling and the use of renewable resources to ensure that the level of use of renewable resources does not exceed that which is sustainable; to reduce or eliminate the waste of resources; to designate, conserve and protect unique ecosystems; to eliminate unnecessary destruction, depletion, degradation, and disturbance of natural resources in the extraction or use of other resources; and to attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable consequences;
  4. To ensure that activities within the Navajo Nation that may substantially disturb the environment are conducted in a manner to minimize such disturbance to the extent feasible and practicable; to ensure that any person or entity doing business on or otherwise carrying on activities within the Navajo Nation is required to remediate any environmental damage caused in the course of business and to provide ample security for the costs of any such remedial actions in the event that such person or entity fails to satisfy such requirements;
  5. To ensure that damage to or contamination of the environment which occurred in the past is remedied, and that the appropriate person or entity be held accountable for the costs of such remediation;
  6. To preserve important cultural, religious, historic, and natural aspects of the Navajo Nation; and
  7. To achieve and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity; and to achieve a balance between population and resource use which will permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life’s amenities.

Navajo Nation Clean Water Act

One of the most significant variations in the Navajo Nation and federal Clean Water Acts is that the Navajo Nation Clean Water Act a series of designated water uses in determining water quality standards, and cultural value and use is one of the considerations. For example, a water source used for religious purposes may have very strict water quality standards that would limit oil and gas development that may impact that source. Other relevant provisions include:

105. Plans, Specifications and Information
The Director, under such conditions as he or she may prescribe, may require the submission of such plans, specifications, and other information as he or she deems necessary to carry out the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to the provisions of this Act.

107. Applicability
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, the provisions of this Act shall apply to all persons and all property within the Navajo Nation.

108. Voluntary Compliance Agreement
(a) Any person to whom the provisions of this Act are not otherwise applicable, may apply to the Director to enter into a voluntary compliance agreement with the Navajo Nation with respect to any property to which the provisions of this Act and/or regulations promulgated hereunder, in whole or in part, are not otherwise applicable.

201. Water Quality Standards.
(b) Uses - The water quality standards shall establish designated uses for waters of the Navajo Nation, or segments thereof, taking into consideration their use and value for public water supplies, protection and propagation of fish and wildlife, recreational purposes, and agricultural (including livestock watering), industrial, and other purposes, and also taking into consideration their use and value for navigation and the cultural value and use of the water. The Director may remove a designated use that is not an existing use consistent with the requirements of section 303(c) of the Clean Water Act and the Administrator’s implementing regulations.

301. Permit Required to Discharge into Surface Waters
 (d) Grounds for denial of permit - The Director shall deny a permit where:
(1) the permit would authorize the discharge of any radiological, chemical, or biological warfare agent, any high-level radioactive waste, or any medical waste into navigable waters;
(5) the issuance of the permit would otherwise be inconsistent with the applicable requirements of other Navajo Nation laws or regulations promulgated thereunder; or

Navajo Nation Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act

The most significant difference between the Navajo Nation Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act and the federal act is that the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act explicitly excludes petroleum from the definition of “hazardous substance” while the Navajo act explicitly includes it. As a result, unauthorized petroleum releases and spills are subject to the penalties and restrictions of the Navajo act, although criminal sanctions will not be enforced against non-Indians.

Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company (NNOGC) Business Practices

The Navajo Nation has its own oil and gas development company which facilitates oil and gas development within the NN boundaries. In 2003, NNOGC and the Navajo Nation entered into a service agreement to operate three wells in the Greater Aneth area. These oil wells reverted to the Navajo Nation when the term of the leases expired. With the operation of these properties, NNOGC has commenced to build a production operations department. Importantly, the Navajo Nation has a first right of refusal option for sunsetting leases. This option has allowed NNOGC to purchase a 10% working interest in the Ratherford Unit of the Greater Aneth Oil Field in 2002, the first time the Navajo Nation had participated in petroleum production outside of “Royalty In Kind”. From this purchase NNOGC has acquired purchased 25 % of the Chevron-Texaco interests in the Aneth, McElmo and Ratherford Units of Aneth Field and in March 2005 a 50% interest in the Tohonadla and Desert Creek fields.