"Someone from Orlinda Benally’s family has come to the Chuska Mountains to graze their sheep in the shade provided by the aspen and pine trees every summer for longer than she can remember. They come to graze their sheep in the shade. Forty years ago her parents built a snug wooden cabin and a corral. The black bear that range in the area don’t bother the sheep – Orlinda’s mother, Sally Benally, has a special way of speaking to them in Navajo and they stay away – but this year, despite the heat that bakes the valley and burns the skin on the back of a person’s arm, the Benallys may not come up to the mountain. There is something that scares them far more than the bears.
On a hot dry day in early June, Orlinda Benally and her sister Marlene Begay drove to the top of the mountain, debating whether their parents should relocate for the season. Within less than a quarter mile of the cabin, the rusted metal arm of an old oil well’s pump jack sat silent and still. The air smelled of burnt rubber and rotten eggs; the air looked wavy, the blue sky and red rocks of the valley below a blur. Within minutes of getting out of the car to look at the well, everyone had a sore throat, some people had headaches or felt nauseous. Down the road, stuck into the dirt, a metal sign read: “DANGER, H2S POISONOUS GAS IN THIS AREA.”
This well, owned by Capitol Operating Group, was drilled in 1967 but hasn’t produced any oil for well over a year. It is one of 10 wells near the Bennallys’ cabin that are no longer active but that concern the family."
Rebecca Clarren reports for Investigate West/Indian Country Today September 5, 2018.