A Weekend at Devil's Spring Ranch with Don and Jane
Earlier this year, Sonia and I spent a long weekend at our friends’ ranch in Northwestern New Mexico. Don and Jane Schreiber run Devil’s Spring Ranch. They bought the place in the late 90s and were planning to make their lifelong dreams of ranching cattle come true. Almost immediately things started to go south. The fracking boom took off in a big way, and their ranch was on prime gas territory. Don and Jane owned the surface land, and had leased grazing rights on adjacent land, but they had no claims to the minerals below. There were already wells on their land when the bought the place, but shortly after they moved onto the land, the state changed the spacing rules for oil and gas wells in the area, enabling companies to drill twice as many wells at a higher density than before. Don and Jane started running cattle on their new ranch, but unfortunately, with the gas boom came a lot more wells, which meant more roads, trucks, and hazards for cattle, zig zagging every which way across their ranch. Eventually fighting the gas companies became too big of a job, and the cattle ranching dream fell by the wayside. Don and Jane have since become vocal advocates for holistic range management practices, responsible land management, and regulations for reducing methane and toxic emissions from oil and gas infrastructure. Today, there are 122 gas wells at Devil’s Spring Ranch, and 10 are visible from Don and Jane’s home.
Don and Devil’s Spring Ranch are featured in the new HBO documentary “Ice on Fire”. Don is interviewed about the common practice of venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas wells. As the major component of natural gas, methane is emitted from oil and gas infrastructure at a disturbing rate in northwestern New Mexico, causing the area to become infamously known for the Four Corners “methane hotspot”. Directed by Leila Connors and narrated and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, “Ice on Fire” was released this year, and is now streaming on HBO’s platforms.
We spent our Saturday driving around with Don and Jane, seeing the ranch and doing some ranch chores. I wasn’t much help, but we did learn a lot about the land, plants, and the hard work it takes to keep up a ranch of this size in a holistic manner. Despite all all the gas wells, Devil’s Spring Ranch is absolutely beautiful. With all the snow and rain over the winter and spring, the ranch was the greenest it had been in 20 years.
The neighbhors still run cattle, so there are a lot of water tanks around for them. One of our ranch chores was driving around to check on the tanks. Don rigged up a bunch of “escape ramps” that we helped install in the drinking tanks on his neighbor’s ranch. The escape ramps are for any critters that fall into the tanks while trying to drink - with the ramps, they have an easier way to get out, saving them and keeping the water cleaner for drinking.