Natural gas wells make poor neighbors

Without a rule to prevent waste, living close to industry is difficult and dangerous.


Don Schreiber is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of NewTowncarShare News. He is a rancher in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico.

My wife, Jane, and I own the Devil’s Spring Ranch in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin — one of the most active areas for natural gas production in the country. While our ranch can at times be quiet, we are never out of sight of a gas well, and not a day goes by when one of the 122 gas wells that surround our ranch isn’t leaking or venting. Not that long ago, there were three churches and four schools within a 10-mile radius of our place. Today, all of them are gone.

In May of 2017, things looked hopeful for us here at the ranch when a bipartisan group of senators voted to uphold the Bureau of Land Management's methane and waste prevention rule from the previous year. But now, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has decided that the rule should be thrown out, allowing oil and gas wells to continue leaking, venting and flaring methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Devil's Spring Ranch in northwest New Mexico's Rio Arriba County.
Courtesy of Don Schreiber

This felt like a punch in the gut. Instead of a rule that stops waste, captures lost royalties and taxes, and protects our clean air, Zinke caved in to the worst actors in the oil and gas industry. According to the BLM’s own analysis, Zinke’s proposal would actually reduce natural gas production from federal lands by 229 billion cubic feet — enough energy to heat 400,000 homes each year for the next 10 years. The BLM also that his plan would cost Americans more than $1 billion in wasted natural gas and pollution.

As if this new proposal’s complete senselessness weren’t frustrating enough, Zinke is systematically trying to limit public comment and engagement regarding it. The BLM has announced only a 60-day public comment period, with not a single public meeting. When President Obama’s Interior secretory, Sally Jewell, orginally proposed the methane rule in 2016, the BLM held public meetings in Farmington, New Mexico, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Denver, Colorado, and Dickinson, North Dakota. Additionally, the BLM extended the comment period by 14 days in order to make sure that all voices were heard.

Zinke’s decision to cut the public out of the process sets a dangerous precedent and clearly shows his contempt for Westerners, who have demonstrated unwavering support for the 2016 BLM methane rule. Tweeti Blancett, a fellow San Juan Basin rancher and business owner, said she was appalled at the administration’s decision to waste a precious natural resource.

Well pads dot the landscape in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

“We have had our share of run-ins with the oil and gas industry, and as a rancher I know it is incredibly important to act responsibly and care for the land. Unfortunately, Secretary Zinke’s proposed rollback will mean the bad actors in the oil and gas industry will keep behaving badly. What we need are clear rules that encourage responsibility.”

It is time for Zinke and the Trump administration to stop these senseless attacks on the 2016 methane and waste prevention rule. The original rule was a win for everyone: It reduced waste, kept our communities healthy, and enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress. Perhaps more importantly, it was overwhelmingly supported by millions of Americans. Just last month, Colorado College released a which found that 70 percent of Westerners continued to support the 2016 rule.

Sam Dee, a rancher and member of the Navajo Nation, agrees that Zinke needs to allow the BLM to keep limiting methane waste: “I speak as a Native American and as a rancher. The people in my area and across the Navajo Nation have a great concern about methane venting and flaring. We call on Secretary Zinke not to take away the protections we all worked so hard to put in place.”

When Jane and I bought our ranch 20 years ago, we dreamed that we would share the land with our grandkids. Now, the oil and gas operations on and adjacent to our land are making it difficult — and sometimes even dangerous — to fulfill that dream. These days, while Zinke sits comfortably in his office in Washington, D.C., too many Westerners like Jane and I live close to an industry that this government allows to harm our land, the air, and the very future of our world.

That’s why it’s important for us to make use of the time we still have to protest the BLM’s lax methane regulations. Send comments on or before April 23, 2018, to Interior Department, Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Mail Stop 2134LM, 1849 C St., NW, Washington, DC 20240. Attention: 1004-AE53. We all stand to lose if we continue to spew methane into the atmosphere.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Siskiyou Field Institute (SFI) delivers outdoor science and natural history educational programs to adults and youth. SFIs Deer Creek Center (DCC) houses our southwest Oregon...
  • Sierra Club is looking for a community organizer who can help us protect grizzly bears and other wildlife species in the Northern Rockies region. This...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • This position provides professional* real estate services for CPW and the Commission to include acting as an official representative in real property transactions and negotiations...
  • 16' Long x 7' Wide x 7',fully equipped,top of line,$7000 sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • Sycamore Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) located in Bloomington, IN, is seeking an exceptionally qualified, motivated candidates for Executive Director.
  • The Director of Marketing and Communications will plan and lead execution of the NFF external marketing and communications efforts. The position will provide strategic and...
  • Development and Communications Coordinator for HawkWatch International. Emphasis on grant writing and fundraising through various social media platforms. Salary range $35,000-$38,000.
  • Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • Join HCN and Black Sheep Adventures on an expedition through the national parks and monuments of Utah and Southwest Colorado, September 7 - 15, 2019....
  • Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is hiring a full-time Restoration Program Coordinator based in Escalante, Utah.
  • Work passionately on behalf of the finest hiking and equestrian trail in the Western United States. Work for the Pacific Crest Trail Association! The Pacific...
  • 7.58 Acres in Delta County for $198,000. and a contiguous 25 acre parcel of land zoned agricultural is available in Montrose county for an additional...
  • in Moab, UT start in Spring. Naturalist, River Guides, Camp Cooks, Internships available. Details at
  • Friends of the San Juans is looking for an experienced attorney. Details at:
  • 25 acre in native grasses. Cedar draw. Year-round spring. At foot of Moscow Mnt, ID, 7 miles from town.
  • Custom-built pumice home, endless views, 20 minutes to Taos Ski Valley, NM. Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Taos Real Estate, 575-758-1924,
  • 5,000 square foot sustainable home on 30 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 20 minutes to Taos Ski Valley, NM. Berkshire Hathaway Home Services...
  • 541-987-2363, [email protected]
  • Reporting to the Board of Directors (Board), the Executive Director (ED) has overall operational responsibility for FoGB staff, programs, expansion, and execution of the mission....