Rocky Mountains 'Facing Oil Threat'

The Rocky Mountains in the US are said to contain about a tenth of the country's untapped oil and a third of its natural gas reserves. (File photo)

Rocky Mountains 'Facing Oil Threat'

A key issue in the US presidential campaign has been the United States' reliance on dwindling foreign oil supplies and the wisdom, or otherwise, of more drilling at home.

The Rocky Mountains in the US are said to contain about a tenth of the country's untapped oil and a third of its natural gas reserves.

It is an area of rare, natural beauty that is now under threat.

From ground level, the stunning mountains and lush meadows of Aspen, Colorado, appear nearly unspoiled and untouched, but that's not the whole story.

'Stark contrast'

Bruce Gordon, a long-time pilot and conservationist, runs Eco Flight, a small environmental organisation providing an aerial perspective on the frenzy of oil and gas drilling in the western region of the Rocky mountains.

"My mission ... is to educate people so they can make informed decisions and too often I see decisions being made by special interest groups," Gordon said.

Flying over largely unspoiled areas, Gordon says: "To your left is good wildlife habitat - undisturbed and roadless - and we are going to see a very stark contrast in the very near future".

Approaching the edge of the Roan Plateau, we had spotted a 500km-square region of public land that contained wildlife until a few years.

Recently, the area, and many others in the West, were opened up to energy exploration.

The Bush administration eased regulations and speeded-up permission for drilling.

The results of that policy were now visible below; a dense network of roads and drill pads crisscrossing the land.

"It's just spreading like a cancer in so many ways, and no matter what anyone says, they are just going to drill this land as much as possible," Gordon said.

George Bush, the US president, once declared that America is addicted to oil.

If so, these scars ravaging a once-beautiful living landscape are the needle tracks of that addiction.

'Devastating effect'

Gordon said: "Under the Bush administration, tens of thousands of new oil and gas wells have been drilled all over the Rocky Mountain West.

"The effect on the environment has been devastating."

All the roads and pads break up wildlife habitat.

Environmentalists say wells release toxic emissions like benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical, increasing health risks for people in towns near drilling.

Meanwhile, the oil industry has said the drilling is an "economic necessity" and could harm the local and national economy if it is not allowed to continue.

"What gets me angry is how people do not want to see this happening and, because of politics and profits, people's voices are not being heard," Gordon said.

As our brief tour of the permanently altered western landscape came to an end, Gordon talked about taking John McCain and Barack Obama, the US White House hopefuls, up high in his little plane and show them a land that is being forever lost.

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