SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Navajo Nation announced this week it has signed a contract with renewable energy companies to convert methane vented from its oil producing operations in southeastern Utah into more eco-friendly hydrogen.

The plan was announced Monday at the Utah state Capitol and hailed by Laura Nelson, who heads the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development, as a strategy that will help with clean energy and lead to more tribal sovereignty, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

“We have a partnership and organization to deliver the mutual benefit of advancing new commodity production while managing emissions that have been associated with oil and gas production,” Nelson said.

Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. technology officer Bill McCabe said they will work with two alternative energy companies named called H2GO and Big Navajo Energy. The tribe wants to do something with methane, a greenhouse gas, instead of it “just going up in smoke.”

“We’d rather see the benefit to the people,” McCabe said. “Now we’re able to capture this, convert it into a different fuel, a fuel of the future, at a much higher economic value than the commodity of natural gas itself.”

H2GO Chief Executive Johnpaul Quick declined to fully explain how his process works, saying those details are proprietary. He said only that the process takes a lot of heat with temperatures around 900 degrees. H2GO would burn some of the gas on-site for use in its process to extract the hydrogen, he said.

"This technology is proven," Quick said. "It will work."

The tribe’s vented gas is expected to produce 600 kilograms of hydrogen daily when the project begins and could ramp up to 1,000 kilograms, McCabe said.

Hydrogen retails for $13-$16 a liter at 42 fueling stations in California and prices are expected to drop as the technology for producing hydrogen improves, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

Energy development is vital to tribal government operations, with one-third of the Navajo Nation’s “disposable income” coming from mineral energy resources in the three states the reservation spans.

“We have long have looked at energy as a source for moving forward and providing for our people and looking at how we can extend our government and the services to our community,” McCabe said.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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