Southern Ute Tribe sees role as 'conscientious' energy developer

A solar energy project on the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado will power about 10 tribally-owned buildings. Photo: Southern Ute Tribe

Only a handful of tribes are engaged in coal development on their lands but the Southern Ute Tribe isn't one of them.

A front-page story in The New York Times reported on tribes that see hope in the Trump administration's focus on coal. But while the Southern Utes are indeed a pioneer in energy development, they aren't reliant on that particular fossil fuel despite being mentioned by the paper.

“The tribe is a leader in conscientious development, production, and transportation of natural gas and oil,” Chairman Clement Frost said on Thursday.

As part of its efforts, the tribe has captured naturally occurring methane leaks associated with coal outcrops on the reservation in Colorado, Frost said. The program actually helps offset the environmental impacts of conventional coal development, whose emissions contribute to climate change.

"By capturing and destroying the methane gas, this project will avoid 23,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from growing to 60,000 annually," the University of Colorado reported in October.

The tribe's oil and gas portfolio is substantial and has helped diversify the economy on the reservation. But Southern Ute leaders realize those resources are finite so they are focusing on alternative energy sources, like solar, to help sustain gains for future generations. Construction of a 1.3-megawatt facility began last August.

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