Aerial View Reveals a Real Threat in the Divide

Oct 8, 2012

EcoFlight flew or friends at Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) over local landscapes to gain perspective on our local wildlands threatened by the oil and gas industry. CORE works to help residents and businesses increase the efficiency of their resources, so we don't have to drill in areas like the Thompson Divide. Below is an article written by Amelia, one of the passengers from the flight...


Last week, I had the pleasure to fly with Bruce Gordon of EcoFlight, along with my colleagues at CORE. Based in Aspen, EcoFlight educates citizens and public officials about large-scale land use issues from an aerial perspective. As a concerned citizen and environmental professional, I hardly expected to be surprised by my own backyard – but three sights caught my attention.


From the distinct vantage point of a small aircraft window, I saw a thick, brown haze lingering to the west of the Roaring Fork Valley.  The experts at EcoFlight shared my suspicion that what the wind blew in was not wildfire smoke, but smog originating at the Four Corners Power Plant, one of the largest coal-based electricity generation facilities in the U.S., located on the Navajo reservation in Fruitland, New Mexico.


Many people in the Roaring Fork Valley believe our region is one of the most scenic and pristine places in the continental United States. Indeed, the peaks of the West Elks tower to the south, bright aspen forests line the valleys, trout swim in gold medal waters, and recreational opportunities abound throughout. Few of us would say that the area suffers from poor air quality. But there it was on the horizon: pollution pumping out of the southwest to satisfy our appetite for power.


The second revelation was much more welcome. For over a year, I have keenly followed the proposals to drill natural gas in the Thompson Divide area west of Highways 133 and 82. As the plane passed over the Spring Gulch nordic ski area in Carbondale, I saw the defining jewel of that landscape in unprecedented fullness.


The jewel? A thick, green, thriving conifer forest that stretches the length of the Divide’s ridgeline and dips generously down into the valleys on both sides. This is a rare Colorado ecosystem, untouched by pine beetle kill, not yet fragmented by roads – whole at a magnitude our pilot Bruce said he rarely sees anymore in the West.


The final surprise came immediately after we crested the Thompson Divide and passed over Divide Creek.  The wide basins of the Colorado River in Silt and Rifle came into view. High-density gas development fractured the landscape with roads, well-pads, a pipeline, drills, tanks and machinery – all crowded between homes on once-prosperous agricultural land. Keep in mind: only one forest stands between our hometowns of Glenwood, Carbondale, Redstone and Marble and that endless network of gas development, which sweeps west to California and north to Montana.


The farmer-poet Wendell Berry wrote, “There are no unsacred places;/there are only sacred places/and desecrated places.” Nothing makes the Thompson Divide or the Roaring Fork Valley more special than areas of dense gas development such as the Roan Plateau, the Colorado River Valley or the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.  Nothing is different, except that these few sacred places remain full of clean water, wildlife, ranchers, outdoorspeople and undisturbed homes – and we still have a chance to protect them from the desecration of extractive industry.


Given my three surprises about the home I have come to love above all others, what can be done to save the last wild and sacred places?


First, on the topic of air quality: there are steps that every individual can take to ensure clean skies for the future. Many of us in the Roaring Fork Valley have already started, by bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, riding our bikes and buying local foods. But it’s going to take more than that. Fortunately, the actions that make a difference for air quality can also keep the atmosphere stable on the macro level of climate change:

  1. Do everything you can to conserve fossil fuels: Weatherize your home, with help from local programs such as Energy Smart and Garfield Clean Energy. Leave your car at home and walk, bike, rideshare or take RFTA as many days as you can.
  2. Make sure that the energy you must use comes from clean sources: CORE and local utilities offer generous rebates to make solar heating and solar electricity affordable, and with an Energy Smart loan, monthly utility savings can pay for your investment in a worthwhile future. If you can’t install solar at your home, invest in a community solar farm or vote in your municipal and utility elections to green the grid.


Ultimately, those two steps, plus a few more, are the actions necessary to stop the onslaught of fossil fuel development through wild places that are simply too special to drill: not only the Thompson Divide in our own backyard, but also other threatened and critical habitats around the world.

  1. In the short term, be politically active on lands issues relevant to you. If you don’t want drill rigs to dot the hills from Marble to Glenwood and fracking to jeopardize water quality and quantity, comment on Senator Bennet’s draft bill to permanently protect the Thompson Divide via
  2. Invest your money in the world you want for yourself and your descendants. If you are part of the 80% of Americans who believe the nation should use more renewable energy in the future[1], make sure that your retirement or pension, children’s college savings accounts, mutual funds, stocks, university endowment and other investments are not associated with coal, oil or natural gas. The international climate action organization,, is in the beginning stages of a global divestment campaign. Learn more at


Thank you, Bruce and everyone at EcoFlight, for giving us the bigger picture. As I saw from the air, our challenges are significant, and the solutions lie within reach.


Together, we can remove smog from our mountain skies. We can save the last great Colorado forests. We can keep potentially dangerous industry out of our neighborhoods. We can even slow the insatiable demand for fossil fuel extraction around the world.


Margaret Mead said, “A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” CORE is here to help. Call us at (970) 963-1090.



Amelia Potvin, Community Office for Resource Efficiency,


Our 6-person flight used just under 20 gallons of aviation gas, which produced approximately 360 pounds of CO2 emissions, roughly equivalent to a tank of gas in a commuter vehicle. CORE purchased Canary Tags for just $3.60 to offset those emissions.

[1] “Climate Change in the American Mind: The Potential Impact of Global Warming on the 2012 Presidential Election.” Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. September 2012. Accessible through: