KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - In a surprise move, the Hopi Tribal Council approved a controversial project with an 8 to 4 vote, giving four western energy companies (WEC Consortium) and the Hopi Tribe the go-ahead to evaluate geologic characteristics of the Black Mesa Basin for potential commercial storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in a new method known as carbon capture sequestration (CCS).
Nada Talayumptewa, chair of the Hopi Tribe's Energy Team and council representative from Kykotsmovi, placed the action item and resolution on the council's agenda.
The proposed project seeks to drill a series of exploration wells on Hopi land for the purpose of collecting and analyzing detailed geological, geophysical and water quality data. Wells will be drilled to a depth of approximately 9,000 feet to determine if the rock strata is hospitable enough to store toxic CO2 extracted from coal plant emissions underground on Hopi and near Navajo reservation communities.
This project builds from an ongoing Department of Energy (DOE) funded project known as the Arizona Utilities Northern Arizona Pilot Project located at the Cholla Power Plant near Joseph City. The project budget will cost approximately $5.02 million and work would be completed within 15 months of DOE approval.
The other participants include Salt River Project (SRP) as the lead applicant with the Hopi Tribe, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and Peabody Coal Company.
SRP, TEP and Tri-State currently supply generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to communities through Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. Peabody is one of the major coal producers in the United States.
Immediately adjacent to both Hopi and Navajo communities, the project has very little research available to assess long range impacts on the Black Mesa Basin, which contains billions of tons of high quality, low sulfur coal reserves as well as coal bed methane, oil and gas reserves. The basin is currently surrounded by six coal-fired energy plants which produce over 11,000 megawatts of power and emits 65 million tons of harmful CO2 annually.
Concerns about the approval of this controversial project have raised many questions from the Hopi people, who heard about the approval through tribal department heads.
One of the more immediate concerns was that Hopi tribal members were never given an opportunity to voice their concerns and question the council regarding such a new technology as CCS, since it is still considered experimental, and long term storage of CO2 is a relatively new concept. Scientists have stated that CO2 can be "captured" with one such experiment taking place at the Cholla Power Plant by Arizona Public Service, but long term outcomes are still being researched.
There are also questions about how long the CO2 will be stored. The short answer is: forever.
Another concern is water. Since CCS requires massive amounts of water because the capturing and compression requires much energy, the Consortium also states that they don't have the water right now, which would mean an increase in pumping Hopi and Navajo water from its current water rate. Proposed increases call for another 25 to 40 more water being pumped.
Safety is also a critical issue since scientists have stated that they cannot predict how long CO2 can be safely stored since it could potentially leak into other underground aquifers or into the air.
Hopi community members have also asked: Can the Hopi Tribe pull out of the project? The answer is yes, but not without consequences. SRP, which operates the Mohave Generating station, is the principal investigator and applicant for the $5 million dollar grant from the DOE. If the Hopi Tribe pulls out of the project, they could possibly be put into a serious liability situation for "misleading" DOE in accessing the money for this experiment.
Peabody has also been actively participating and supporting the CCS project because they want to keep mining Hopi and Navajo coal for a very long time.
Joelynn Roberson, a consultant to the Consortium, is also under fire from the Hopi community since part of her position description requires her to act as facilitator to the Hopi nation to "ensure permitting" and to engage in public outreach on tribal lands concerning the project, which to date has not occurred.
Two former Hopi Chairmen, Vernon Masayesva and Benjamin Nuvamsa, spoke to the Observer about their concerns.
Nuvamsa stated, "The Hopi Tribe is assuming a lot about this project. These are poisonous gases ... from the coal fired plants [that will be] deposited into wells 9,000 feet deep for more than a lifetime. Therein lies the problem. It's just another way to allow these plants to keep polluting but this time, they would be polluting our water, not the air."
"It's a pretty clever way ... for these companies to get around tough EPA air emissions control requirements like [Best Alternative Retrofit Technology] (BART). They are trying to divert our tribal attention away from the coal plants polluting the skies and a way to justify the continued existence of their plants," he added.
Masayesva stated, "This project approved by the Hopi Council, which will allow the Hopi and Navajo geologic strata and water reserves to store CO2 is highly experimental. Hopi and Navajo people have good reason to suspect that the sequestration model cannot accurately predict the migration of CO2 We have no idea and neither do scientists of the true picture of the extent of damages that can be done to the ground water in the Black Mesa Basin."
He added, "Bottom line, the question that this project and its supporters must answer to the Hopi and Navajo people is this: Did the Hopi Tribe actually want the CO2 sequestration on Hopi land, or are they using this sequestration project as a vehicle to collect mineral data? If the latter is true, then the Hopi Council has now acted in bad faith, and this could have serious consequences for our tribe because it would mean that SRP, Peabody and the other energy companies along with Hopi water consultant Joelynn Roberson could be accused of securing federal money for this project under false pretenses."
Nuvamsa concluded, "What everyone here on Hopi and Navajo should understand is that once the CO2 is injected into our reservation homeland ground, it will not be possible to extract those poisonous gases or stop them from permeating into our aquifers. Our aquifers will be forever poisoned. Future Hopi and Navajo generations will pay the price for a few measly dollars that these Hopi council members want. This is what I call environmental extortion."
The eight Hopi Council members who approved the project included: Nada Talayumptewa, Phillip Quochytewa, Norman Honanie, Danny Honanie, Everett Calnimptewa, Wayne Kuwanhoiyoma, Velma Kelyesva and Arvin Puhuyesva.
A public information meeting sponsored by the InterTribal COALition group to discuss this topic will be held at the Hotevilla Youth and Elderly Center at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 6. A meal will be provided and all Hopi and Navajo tribal members are encouraged to come to share their opinions and concerns regarding this project.