As Joe Biden recently announced that reducing methane production was one of his priorities in the fight against climate change, a Montana resident was plugging his twelfth abandoned oil well that was generating astronomical amounts of this greenhouse gas.
Curtis Shuck has spent much of his career in the petroleum industry. For this former Alaskan resident who made his home in Shelby, northern Montana, 40 minutes from the border with Alberta, the mission to fight climate change became his hobbyhorse two years ago. , when he crossed his first orphan well in Montana under a pile of garbage, wood and scrap metal.
This orphan well, as he calls it, was abandoned decades ago by a company that operated an oil field. Inactive since, however, it continues to release methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful and more harmful than carbon dioxide.
” Once we see something like that, we can’t erase it from our memory. I could not imagine that we could leave this well like that. “
He estimates that an abandoned well produces three cubic feet of methane every eight seconds. Stopping emissions from a well is equivalent to removing 1,000 cars from circulation per year.
Three million abandoned wells
In the silent immensity of the Montana plains, thousands of wells relentlessly release one of the planet’s worst polluters. Across the United States, there are more than 3 million of these orphan oil and gas wells.
Curtis Shuck has since created the Well Done Foundation, a non-profit organization that strives to find
adoptive parents to solve the problem of these polluting orphans, vestiges of a race for black gold where oil wells quickly ran out, little by little, and which, in the end, were abandoned.
With a few workers in a struggling industry, Curtis Shuck assembled a team to shut them down, one after another. They drive pipes to a depth of almost 500 meters, in order to touch the bottom of the oil well. A bit like a straw that is pushed into a box of juice and through which we send cement to saturate the well to the surface of the ground.
Closing a well like this can be done in two days and the results are tangible. As soon as Curtis Shuck uses his gas and methane detector probe, the absence of pollution is immediate.
$ 30,000 per well
But who is funding such an operation? The foundation Well donesays Curtis Shuck, who runs the organization almost like a volunteer, and who hasn’t accepted a single taxpayer dollar.
In the case of the well that he closed that morning with his team, the answer is actually more than 8,000 kilometers away in Japan, where Fuyuki Fujiwara, a 52-year-old investment fund manager, decided to pull out his checkbook.
I donated the money and there really is something going on between cause and effect. It’s not like I planted a tree hoping that maybe 30 years from now it will be big and capture carbon. When you close a well, the impact is immediate, assures Mr. Fujiwara.
Obviously, $ 30,000 is not a sum for everyone, but he recommends forming groups where everyone can contribute.
Relief for farmers
A few weeks ago, Curtis Shuck’s team plugged another well, thanks to another generous donor who helped. Much to the delight of Sam Stewart, the farmer who owns a plot of land containing no less than 16 abandoned oil wells.
I don’t know whose wells are, they are orphans and no one is responsible for them. But when these wells leak, it sterilizes the soil, the smell is terrible and it’s also complicated to bypass them with our equipment.
New environmental awareness
But it is not just individuals who participate in these polluting well closures. In Pennsylvania, for example, the energy company Seneca Resources financed the closure of a well that did not even belong to it.
Often people have wells in their backyards and they don’t even know it, says Amanda Veazey, environmental advisor for the company. The government cannot deal with it, so when a third party funds the shutdown, it is a relief.
Late redemption for some, environmental awareness for others, the solution to these millions of polluting wells will take time. Curtis Shuck is realistic, he won’t be able to do it on his own, but he still hopes to close a thousand wells next year, especially in Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Sign of the times, Joe Biden also promised to release several billion dollars to remedy the abandoned wells and mines of the country by creating in particular 250,000 jobs in order to plug them.
But the CEO of the Well Done Foundation will not wait for these funds to move his project forward.
The money might come one day, but it’s more important to show that our project is working and to make a real difference.
Until then, Curtis Shuck will continue to hunt down methane, even with his growing team creating new expertise in the field of measurement and detection of this chemical compound.
So far, a good dozen wells have been plugged. There are over 3 million left, but as he likes to say:
one at a time.