It’s not news that the oil and gas industry has left millions of abandoned wells all across America and is placing the responsibility of closing those open wells on American taxpayers. Despite receiving billions in government subsidies every year, the fossil fuel industry simply doesn’t care about our planet, the people on it, or how the industry negatively harms the environment. There may be good people working in the industry, but the industry itself couldn’t care less about anything but profits.
However, there are good people working in these industries — let’s be honest here. We all have to make a living in some way. Some end up working in the oil, gas, or coal industry — perhaps not even realizing what problems they’re contributing to. One such good person is the founder of the Well Done Foundation, Curtis Shuck Jr., a 30-year veteran of the oil industry.
The Problem: Abandoned Oil Wells
The problem is that when an oil company is finished pumping oil from an oil well, they abandon the well. Also known as orphaned wells, they contribute to the release of toxic chemicals into the environment. As ABC News reported in 2021, some of these wells release methane. That particular article also shared the story of Ashley Williams Watt, who owns a cattle ranch in West Texas. Long before her family owned the land, the land was an oil well drilling site where the wells were plugged with cement decades ago and forgotten. However, Watt noticed that the wells seemed to have been unplugging themselves while leaking dangerous chemicals into the groundwater beneath the ranch.
“I’m watching this well literally just spew brine water into my water table, and then I have to go home at night, and I’m sweaty and tired and smelly, and I get in the shower, and I turn on the shower and I look at it, and I think, is this shower going to kill me?”
There are millions of these orphan wells all across the US.
The Good News
In the BBC video above, Shuck shares that the well his nonprofit organization is plugging is just a couple hundred feet away from someone’s home.
“They need to be capped because it’s just simply the right thing to do. I don’t care where you live on the climate spectrum whether you’re a climate crusader or a climate denier. It’s just the right thing to do.”
The retired 30-year oil executive added that when he saw the condition left behind by the industry, he was horrified.
“I was embarrassed […] that in any universe that we would have thought that it was okay to walk away from something like that.”
The video included an interview of a homeowner, Andrew Groce, who lives near the well. Groce noted that having an oil well in your backyard isn’t that uncommon in his community.
“They’re all over. Any walk through the woods will show an abandoned well somewhere.”
Shuck pointed out that there is an opportunity to have an intersection between passion and purpose.
“If we can provide a platform for others to participate in this great work and inspire others to do this work, that we’re really winning at the game.”
The Well Done Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has several projects that it is currently working on. So far, the nonprofit has plugged 14 wells. Although 14 is a small number compared to the 2.15 million uncapped wells estimated by the EPA to be out there, the 14 wells that have been plugged were emitting over 500,000 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent over a 10-year period. This is equivalent to 108,740 passenger vehicles driven for one year or the energy usage of 99,009 homes for one year!
On the website, you can see a list of projects the foundation has funding to cap, needs funding for, or has already plugged. One current project that has been funded but not yet plugged is right here in Louisiana.
The Fenner #2, which is part of the foundation’s Five Bayous Project, is an orphaned oil well located in Caddo Parrish. My hometown of Shreveport is the parish seat of Caddo Parrish. The well is located near Mooringsport near Caddo Lake, a manmade lake that spans the border of Texas and Louisiana and is rich in wildlife. The well had been recently abandoned, in 2017, and the amount of CO2 equivalent emitted per year is 2,336.08. The cost of plugging the well is $30,000.
The foundation noted that it can’t plug all 2.15 million orphaned wells alone, but the goal is to provide a template and scalable model for oil states and the nation to help fight climate change by plugging one oil well at a time.
If you would like to help out, the foundation is looking for volunteers who can help with a wide variety of things — from social media to the work of actually plugging the wells. You can also donate directly here.
Featured image courtesy of Well Done Foundation