“Sometimes the only reason for us to be somewhere else is to see things from a different perspective.” — Leila Summers
The sputter of the 100LL gasoline powered engine rattles through the six-seater Cessna 210. “I use oil and gas,” pilot Bruce Gordon, of EcoFlight, states very clearly as he points to the dashboard of the small plane while we taxi towards take off. “EcoFlight is not against oil and gas drilling, but feel it must be done properly and responsibly. There are some places where it shouldn’t be done, such as the Thompson Divide.”
The Thompson Divide area he is referring to today is a swath of land being controversially considered for oil and gas drilling, much of which is designated “roadless.” It sits to the west of Carbondale, south of Glenwood Springs, east of Rifle and north of Paonia.
EcoFlight’s mission is to educate and advocate for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat, which are dwindling daily, by providing an aerial perspective, and encouraging an environmental stewardship ethic among citizens of all ages.
The subjects for education today are Susie Amichaux, an employee for Garfield County Public Health; her husband, Craig; fellow Carbondale Trustee Katrina Byars; and myself.
It is a fairly clear and chilly December morning as we take off from Pitkin County airport. The flight begins alongside the majestic Elk Mountains, most of which are designated wilderness, the highest form of protection the government can give to a piece of land. No mining, logging, drilling, roads, vehicles, or permanent structures are allowed within a wilderness designation. This land is to be preserved in its natural condition, for nature’s sake, wildlife’s sake, our sake and for future generations. Its forest are thick, lush and unbroken as seen from above.
Our flight continues west, past Mount Sopris and the Town of Carbondale, where we enter the Thompson Divide area. There are clear signs of human impact from past mining operations, old oil and gas wells (which now serve as storage and transportation of fuel to heat Carbondale homes), current logging and agriculture operations, and Sunlight Ski Area. For the most part though, this land is flourishing and healthy with thick forest and clean waters. There is ample opportunity for wildlife to live relatively undisturbed.
The last portion of our flight takes us above the oil and gas drilling operations near New Castle and Rifle. This land appears barren and dry, worn out like the skin of an old rancher who has spent decades in the elements. There are no sign of trees or forest surrounding the drilling operations. Roads crisscross much of the land. Retention ponds sit stagnant so the chemicals we put in the water can dissipate out. I cannot say if the land is this way because of oil and gas, having not seen this area from above before its prevalence. But it is clear that there is a difference between land near drilling and land that is not.
When it is all said and done, it is a matter of perspective. The perspective of proponents of oil and gas is as legitimate as any; it produces energy, which at this point we all use to some extent, and it stimulates the economy, allowing many people to make a decent living and support a family. On the flip side of the coin, opponents of oil and gas believe the same economic value can be created by using renewable resources (solar, wind, water) without the risks of environmental and health impacts.
The perspective I gained from a bird’s eye view makes it clear that oil and gas has a direct impact on the surrounding land. There are many ways we can remedy this. Living in a capitalist culture, the most powerful vote we have is with our dollar. As long as we demand oil and gas it will continue to be produced. If we make simple changes in our individual lives by walking, riding the bus, eating locally, conserving resources and choosing to use renewable energy, we can truly make a difference.
While each of us continues to make our individual lives better, there are some great organizations working tirelessly behind the scenes to help educate and advocate for the protection of wild lands, such as EcoFlight (ecoflight.org), The Thompson Divide Coalition (working to secure permanent protection of the Thompson Divide from oil and gas drilling) (www.savethompsondivide.org/) and Wilderness Workshop (working to protect nature for its sake and ours) (wildernessworkshop.org).
Most of all remember its all perspective. Put yourself in the shoes of the father working on a drilling rig who wants to give his daughter an opportunity to live the best life she can. Put yourself in the perspective of the trees and the water whose voices are not heard. Put yourself in the perspective of future generations and imagine what they will think of our current actions. It’s all about education and perspective, and I thank EcoFlight, Bruce Gordon and his dedicated team for helping to broaden that perspective. We are in this together and we can do better.
A.J. Hobbs serves on the Carbondale Board of Trustees and the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. He can be reached at: email@example.com.