Tribal oil and gas company seeks new directors

James Fenton
The offices of Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. are pictured on March 17 along Arizona State Route 264 in St. Michaels, Ariz.

FARMINGTON — Despite an outstanding $37.5 million bank loan and collapsed crude oil and natural gas prices on the commodities market, the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. is still in good standing, a tribal energy company official said earlier this month.

Lennard Eltsosie, NNOGC board chairman, said in a phone interview that the tribal energy company will take care of its loan obligations as soon as it can.

"The price of crude oil andn gas does not help the NNOGC, but it's (a) global (situation), so we're just hoping that it goes back up sometime," Eltsosie said. "As for now, we're weathering the tides of crude oil and where it's at, business continues."

Eltsosie, who has served on the St. Michaels, Ariz.-based company's board for six years, said that the company's "weathering" strategy is to pay off its "borrowing base."

"We will pay the loan back," he said. "Certainly crude oil will not be in the $20 and $30 (ranges) forever. I believe there will be a rebound."

In January, tribal Council delegates tabled an emergency bill requesting $4.9 million in supplemental funding from the tribe’s Undesignated Unreserved Fund Balance for the company after it defaulted on a $6.25 million loan payment to Wells Fargo Bank at the end of last year.

Eltsosie said the company still has yet to secure a loan from the council.

Despite the commodities downturn, he said the company's assets were secure and NNOGC had not laid off any of its roughly 100 workers.

The tribal enterprise, established in 1998 as a federally chartered Section 17 corporation under the Indian Reorganization Act, NNOGC owns and operates oil and natural gas interests, primarily in the San Juan Basin and the Greater Aneth, Tohonadla and Desert Creek fields in southeast Utah.

On March 16, NNOGC announced that it is seeking candidates to fill three open seats on the company's seven-director board.

The three open seats would ultimately replace "hold-over" directors, including Eltsosie, Diandra Benally and Young Jeff Tom. They are hold-overs because they have served in the positions beyond their terms.

Pursuant to NNOGC’s bylaws, the Navajo Nation Corporation Code, and corporation law , once board directors' terms have expired, they "hold-over" until validly replaced or removed, or they have resigned, according to company officials.

On Feb. 12, Tom, who is also a former Navajo Nation Council delegate, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters in connection to a case of misusing discretionary fund money intended to help tribal members in financial trouble.

Eltsosie said Tom was still an acting board director but declined to comment further.

People interested in the open positions can apply until May 16, according to a press release from the oil and gas company.

Candidates must be enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, have "substantial" knowledge of the oil and gas industry, hold at least a bachelor's degree and consent to a background check. They also should have expertise in business areas, including corporate finance, accounting, economics, law, business management, engineering and geology.

The job openings announcement follows the introduction of a "rigorous new nominations process," according to a February 3 press release. The new requirements are detailed in NNOGC's Restated Federal Charter,

In that release, the company announced that it had seated four new directors — former NNOGC CEO Wilson Groen, Philip Winner, Janna Blanter and former tribal Division of Economic Development Director Albert Damon Jr.

According to the Restated Charter guidelines, the Nominations Committee is charged with recruiting, interviewing, screening and nominating all new directors who must be confirmed by the company’s five shareholder representatives. The new charter was ratified by the Navajo Nation Council last year.

Board director Benally, who is also Nominations Committee chairwoman, said in the release that the new hires echo the intent of the Restated Charter.

“We are excited to welcome four new directors who meet and exceed the company’s new requirements,” Benally said in the release. “Collectively, the new Board of Directors possess decades of experience leading and advising oil and gas companies as well as specialized expertise that will be invaluable to NNOGC.”

People interested in applying to become a member of the board can send a letter of interest, résumé, list of three professional references, a completed and signed background consent form with proof of Navajo Nation enrollment and conflict-of-interest disclosure form by 4 p.m., May 16. Send submissions to NNOGC Attn: Nominations Committee, PO Box 4439, Window Rock, Ariz. 86515. For more information, call Dianne Nakai at 928-871-4880.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.