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You can't call 811 before digging on the Navajo Nation. That may change after Shiprock oil spill

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

Back in December, a severe spill of crude oil on the Navajo Nation in Shiprock, New Mexico, contaminated the land. Remediation efforts are still underway, but this accident has a silver lining, one that may facilitate faster emergency responses on the largest reservation in the U.S.

Council leadership is considering a new policy after a grader punctured the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company’s Running Horse Pipeline, causing a massive spill of more than a 1,000 barrels.

“After sitting down with Running Horse Pipeline and Navajo EPA, we’ve noticed that there’s not an 811 dig regulation for Navajo Nation,” said Navajo Nation Council delegate Brenda Jesus, who chairs the Resource and Development Committee. “So, that was one lesson learned.”

Calling 811 is a free service, helping the public find out what’s below the surface, so digging can be done safely, including the grading of unpaved roads.

Now, the Navajo Nation EPA is drafting a policy to put before the council.

“That’s a new regulation, eventually, that the Resource and Development Committee is going to be putting into place here, so all these companies that deal with that type of incident would be able to call 811 first,” added Jesus. “We could have a central call-in number, or it’s going to be tied into the 811 dig with the states.”

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.