Sealing the Leaks: Fighting Climate Change by Plugging Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells

Well Done Foundation Team Plugging an Orphan Well in Toole County, Montana.
Well Done Foundation Team Plugging an Orphan Well in Toole County, Montana.

The Well Done Foundation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to plugging the estimated 3.5 million orphaned oil and gas wells littered across the United States, had a record-breaking year in 2023, plugging 18 wells across four states and eliminating the equivalent emissions of taking 56,700 cars off the road.

The orphaned wells, remnants of past fossil fuel extraction, contribute 20-30% of methane emissions in the U.S. according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The leaks affect drinking water, harm wildlife, ruin land, and create flooding risks. Plugging them has an immediate environmental impact.

“2023 was a record year for well plugging and our goal is to plug even more wells in 2024,” said Curtis Shuck, Chairman of the Well Done Foundation, in an interview. “I began this mission after seeing the impact unplugged wells have on the environment and the community and knew that there was a better way to address the orphaned well problem.”

The process of plugging a well requires carefully measuring and monitoring the well’s emissions before and after the procedure. Last year, the Foundation launched a Qualified Measurement Specialist program to train and hire specialists across the country to oversee this process. Four new specialists were certified in 2023.

One of the plugging projects last year was on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. “Plugging the well on our land has improved our air and water quality,” said Thomas Bearhead, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, in a statement. “We are grateful for the Well Done Foundation’s work.”

The Foundation also plugged two wells affecting communities – a trailer park and a senior living facility – where residents reported better water quality after the procedures.

In addition to their field work, the Foundation is also advocating for policy change and funding to address the orphaned well crisis. Last year, they traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators on the issue.

The Well Done Foundation was founded in 2019 by Curtis Shuck, an oil industry veteran. It partners with landowners, local and state governments, corporations and other nonprofits to locate orphaned wells and restore well sites. To date, they have plugged over 40 wells across several states.

You can find more information about Well Done Foundation on their website, www.welldonefoundation.org.

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