‘Watchdogs’ will keep eyes on gas drilling | AspenTimes.com

‘Watchdogs’ will keep eyes on gas drilling

Local environmental groups acknowledge they were caught off guard last year when thousands of acres of the national forest outside Carbondale were leased for natural gas development. They have a plan to recover in 2005.Wilderness Workshop, one of the oldest environmental organizations in the valley, plans to enlist residents to serve as watchdogs to make sure gas companies comply with regulations that control their activities on public lands.The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t have enough staff to adequately monitor the gas companies, said Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker.As the gas boom that’s sweeping Garfield County spreads into the White River National Forest south of Rifle and southwest of Carbondale, Shoemaker sees a greater need for trained activists to watch development and blow the whistle when necessary.”Our experience shows that once the steamroller gets going, these guys are drilling willy-nilly,” Shoemaker said.The group’s trained watchdogs will make sure issues like seasonal closures to benefit wildlife and steps to limit environmental damage are honored.Signs show the natural gas boom is spreading. Shoemaker said Forest Service officials told him they anticipate between 15 and 30 applications to drill gas wells in the forest.About 2,000 acres of forest lands southwest of Carbondale, some in the popular Thompson Creek area, were leased to gas companies last May, drawing alarm from Wilderness Workshop and other environmental groups. When they investigated the process, they learned tens of thousands of acres had already been leased in a vast area between Sunlight Mountain Resort and McClure Pass.Additional land within that area has been deemed appropriate for gas exploration by the Forest Service.So with little opportunity to prevent leasing, Wilderness Workshop is preparing to be a watchdog. Its watchdog program is called Adopt-a-Lease.A training session was held last year for interested people. Another will be held Saturday at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale. The free training is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Interested people can call Shoemaker to register at 963-3977.The U.S. Senate’s actions this week that cleared the way for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska certainly demoralizes some activists but it’s also caused others to “grit their teeth and get pissed,” Shoemaker said.The primary goal of Adopt-a-Lease is to prevent environmental degradation. And if environmental damage occurs, Wilderness Workshop wants to make sure people are aware of the costs of the administration’s energy policy, Shoemaker said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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