Captain's Log 1XE, Day 7 in the month of January in the Earth Calendar Year of 2015.
Here in Colorado we had a classic Christmas. Snow and bitter cold with picturesque snow-wrapped trees. The sun rarely made an appearance, and clouds provided the backdrop for a cozy and most beautiful holiday season.
Checking out the Farmers' Almanac (or more accurately weather.com) we noticed a break in the action for one day and combined a number of flight requests to fly a spectacular route, provide critical footage for the issue at hand and an aerial educational tour that was provocative and revealing.
It was like a magic carpet ride as we lifted off and headed into the Maroon Bells Wilderness (short video clip).
On board this day were photographers and videographers and the Sierra Club. Our destination was the North Fork Valley, home to picturesque organic orchards and vineyards, and also home to coal mines, methane vents and natural gas wells. The route was as spectacular as it gets, and the winds aloft favorable, as we bobbed and weaved our way through the numerous thirteen and fourteen thousand foot peaks in the Maroon Bells Wilderness and West Elk Wilderness with nary a bounce. It was if we were in a helicopter.
In Paonia we exchanged some passengers and now had researchers from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) and a reporter to take a look at the remote and wild terrain of the Sunset Roadless Area, underneath which Arch Coal is proposing to expand their West Elk Coal mine. Much of the mine is underground, but being one of the gassiest mines in the nation, the company has to drill wells above the mine to vent out methane. This is where the problem lies - not only is methane 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but as we saw on the existing vents, they require miles of roads and giant well pads to drill them. In this case, the proposed expansion would require bulldozing 6 miles of roads and 48 well pads in the roadless area.
As we circled over the tiny town of Somerset, which is literally across the street from the mine, we could look back at majestic Mount Gunnison. The whole issue becomes crystal clear when viewed from the aerial vantage point. Plenty of coal being extracted, plenty of methane vent holes revealed, oil and gas everywhere and a tiny bench of undisturbed land that provides critical habitat for goshawk, black bear, elk and the imperiled lynx. It is home to pristine forests of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows, and creates a valuable linkage between the West Elk Wilderness area and the forests in the watershed of the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
A magic carpet ride with a purpose.