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Outdoors industry taps into Southern Ute methane capture project

Carbon offsets part of sustainability standard
Outdoors organizations are using the Southern Ute Indian Tribe methane capture project, managed by the SUIT Growth Fund, to reduce their carbon footprint during events in August and October.

When Wyoming-based and California-based organizations decided to reduce their carbon footprints, they turned to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s methane capture project to balance their environmental budgets.

The project, developed by the tribe’s Growth Fund Department of Energy, has captured naturally leaking methane on the reservation for 10 years. The project is part of a growing voluntary carbon market where organizations that fund renewable energy, reforestation and other carbon sequestration projects can receive carbon offsets. In this case, the offset process involved five organizations across four states and tapped into the outdoor industry’s growing sustainability movement.

“It’s really important to begin establishing this standard of sustainability,” said Elizabeth Hutchings, marketing and logistics coordinator for The Center for Jackson Hole’s project, Shaping How We Invest For Tomorrow, or SHIFT. SHIFT is an environmental festival that runs Oct. 16-18 in Wyoming that is reducing its carbon footprint through the tribe’s methane project.

“We can’t just talk the talk and host an environmental conservation conference and not think about the impact of the waste we’re generating at the festival or the fact that people are traveling to come here. That has a huge carbon footprint,” she said.

Hutchings said SHIFT staff spent about 200 hours becoming a Sustainable Tourism and Outdoors Kit for Evaluation (STOKE) Certified event. Now the festival uses 100% renewable energy; is a paperless, zero-waste event; and sources its food from local farms.

SHIFT organizers wanted to offset their carbon footprint using a project near Wyoming. The festival partnered with The Inertia, a Los Angeles-based mountain, surf and outdoors organization also looking to offset the carbon footprint for its Evolve Summit on Aug. 18.

Together, they chose the Southern Ute methane capture project out of several options, said Carl Kish, co-founder of STOKE, which provides a sustainability certification for outdoors and adventure organizations.

From 2009 to 2017, the Southern Ute project captured about 379,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent before it entered the atmosphere, according to the SUIT Growth Fund Department of Energy.

That’s the same as about 41,000 homes’ energy use for one year and 81,000 passenger vehicles driven for one year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

In certain areas of the fossil fuel-rich San Juan Basin, where the Southern Ute reservation is located, coal seams emerge from the ground. Before the project, methane would naturally seep from the basin into the atmosphere. Now, the tribe captures it using 28 wells and eventually uses the methane for thermal energy or power generation, according to the NativeEnergy website.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has a multibillion-dollar economy largely based on oil and gas production, and the tribe maintains the methane capture project more for its environmental than financial benefits.

“The tribe is well-known for its diversification and will continue to look for new opportunities for growth that may benefit the tribe and tribal membership,” said Lindsay Box, communications specialist for Tribal Council Affairs, in an email to The Durango Herald.

These types of carbon offset endeavors are growing, said John Ringer, client strategy manager at NativeEnergy. Airlines are addressing emissions for international flights, and corporations are starting to offset carbon use in their supply chains.

“We’re optimistic in the fact that the carbon market is growing and participation in the voluntary carbon market is also growing,” he said.

Still, cost can be an issue for organizations pursuing carbon reduction, or event organizers who need to meet a minimum tonnage amount of carbon that they want to offset, Kish said. Organizations pay $1 to $26 per ton of carbon offset, with an average cost of about $10 per ton, he said. One ton is 2,440 miles driven in an average passenger car, according to the EPA calculator.

For Elizabeth Hutchings, the cost of sustainability is worth it.

“You put in this time, and you put in this money, and you can choose where to spend it,” she said. “We want to spend it on something that will have a long-term positive impact.”


Elizabeth Hutching’s last name was corrected on its second usage, and the organization name, STOKE, was corrected from STOKE Certified.

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