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Flagstaff Says Helium Drilling Could Endanger Water Supply

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Vancouver-based Desert Mountain Energy has been looking at drilling for helium and hydrocarbons around Flagstaff for some time now, but the city filed a restraining order Friday to stop the company from drilling wells on state land about 35 miles east of Flagstaff.

The city terminated a partnership with the company last year, citing it "had not had sufficient opportunity to address community concerns" around the project.

The restraining order seeks an immediate evidentiary hearing to permanently prohibit Desert Mountain Energy from drilling oil and gas wells on an Arizona State Land Department parcel near Red Gap Ranch.

City officials say the energy company is drilling within a mile and a half of the municipal water source and that any efforts to engage in well stimulation or fracking "could permanently damage the water quality of the city's municipal water supply."

Flagstaff acquired Red Gap Ranch in 2005 to develop a regional water supply pipeline project to benefit the city along with the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation. City officials said Friday they intend to "vigilantly defend its water rights and any actions that threaten the integrity of the regional water supply and its water quality."

Desert Mountain Energy did not respond immediately to KJZZ's request for comment.

Austin Fast joined KJZZ in 2020 as he finished his master's degree in investigative journalism at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.Before moving to Phoenix, he covered the world’s largest wild salmon fishery at KDLG Public Radio in rural Alaska, wrote breaking news at a Cincinnati TV station, and taught English overseas with the Peace Corps. He now works on the investigations team at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.