Gobernador rancher featured in HBO documentary on climate change
Don Schreiber has prominent part in 'Fire on Ice'
FARMINGTON — A Gobernador rancher who has emerged as one of the leading local proponents of requiring the capture of methane emissions in the Four Corners region is featured in a new documentary film about climate change airing on HBO.
Don Schreiber, owner of the Devil's Spring Ranch in western Rio Arriba County, said the director and crew members for the film "Ice on Fire" — which made its debut on HBO June 11 — visited his family three times in late 2017 and early 2018 to conduct interviews and shoot footage.
According to hbo.com, the 98-minute film is narrated by Leonard DiCaprio, and produced by him and his father, George DiCaprio, among others. It features locations around the world and focuses on solutions to what it calls the escalating environmental crisis.
Schreiber's ranch was chosen because he has advocated for stricter regulations regarding venting and flaring from natural gas wells. The Four Corners region is home to a sizable "methane cloud" that researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology have attributed largely to gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants. Industry advocates have responded by linking the emissions to natural sources such as coal formations and have fought increased regulation, which they say will have a negative economic impact.
Schreiber, who served on the transition team for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the segment of the film in which he appears deals with the issue of methane emissions in the Four Corners, a topic that he said remains relevant since he was interviewed a year and a half ago by director Leila Conners.
"These things have not lost any currency here and are more timely than ever," he said.
Schreiber said he a cameraman and Conners followed him on a tour of his ranch, where a FLIR thermographic camera was used to capture footage of methane leaking from well sites. Schreiber said Conners peppered him with questions as they walked.
"In this film, there's nothing scripted," Schreiber said, describing the experience of being interviewed by the director. "You have no idea what questions they're going to ask you. They're looking for honest, uncut reactions."
Schreiber has spoken to media outlets ranging from NPR to PBS over the years about the methane cloud, so he is relatively used to being interviewed. He said he always takes care to choose his words carefully, aspiring to be a voice for others in the region who are not on the radar of major media organizations.
"I'm always concerned that I represent in my answers the truth," he said. "I'm always aware that I'm talking for so many people who don't get the call from The New York Times or HBO. … I feel a great burden every time they turn the camera on me to say something meaningful."
Schreiber was invited to the documentary's Los Angeles premiere at the Bing Theater on June 5 and got to view it then. He said the segment on the Four Corners lasts for approximately seven minutes and features Dr. Gabrielle Petron, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association who has studied the methane cloud for many years.
"It all went by in a flash," Schreiber said. "But I felt we were well represented."
When asked to evaluate his own appearance in the film, Schreiber burst out laughing.
"Well, it doesn't matter now, does it?" he asked rhetorically before turning serious. "Yes, I think that with their editing and their choices, they got a great representation of what it's like to live on the ground with this."
Schreiber attended the premiere with one of his daughters and his sister. He said it was an extremely rewarding experience, one made more memorable by the chance to visit with Conners again and the opportunity to meet Leonardo DiCaprio.
Schreiber admitted to being a little starstruck at the premiere — not just by the Hollywood types that were among the crowd of 700 people, he said, but by some of the nation's more prominent scientific minds. He laughed when he recalled how he realized to his dismay that his phone had run out of photo storage memory and died when he arrived at the event. Schreiber found himself running around with a canapé in one hand and a phone charger in the other, looking for an electrical outlet.
His viewing of the film at the premiere may turn out to be the only opportunity Schreiber has to see the documentary.
"We don't have a TV at the ranch," he said. "We're at the opposite end of the pole from Hollywood."
Nevertheless, he seemed pleased with his decision to participate in the documentary and hopes it sheds some light on the issue of the Four Corners methane cloud.
"I would say the science and the scientists are the stars of this movie, and I'm glad our Four Corners methane problems are getting international attention," he said. "But we really have to be grateful to the DiCaprios for putting science and the scientists at the forefront of the film."
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.