Looking down over the dense forests on the remote western edge of Pitkin County, Peter Aengst saw a landscape he feared could be threatened by the spread of oil and gas wells from nearby Garfield County — or one that could be kept off-limits to gas rigs forever.
Only a handful of wells have been drilled there, but 81 leases have been claimed by about 15 gas companies. Those leases “sit on the landscape like a ticking time bomb,” said Aengst, deputy director of The Wilderness Society in its Northern Rockies office in Bozeman, Mont. That includes a lease under the Sunlight Mountain Resort ski area.
A broad coalition of ranchers, landowners and conservationists has formed to try to block gas drilling in the area, due to the role it plays for cattle grazing, wildlife migration, recreation and scenic beauty. They’re hoping for some kind of protections — from the stroke of a pen in the Glenwood Springs office of the White River National Forest to a congressional mandate — that would keep drill rigs out of there for good.