Infrastructure dollars plug abandoned oil wells in Montana, other states

PROMO Energy - Oil Pump Rig - iStock - Karina Movsesyan
Published Saturday, February 12, 2022
by Eric Tegethoff

(Big Sky Connection) States are getting money from the infrastructure law to plug up the methane-leaking issue of orphan oil wells.

The Biden administration has announced more than $1.1 billion for 26 states, including $26 million for Montana, to address abandoned wells.

Curtis Shuck, chairman of the Well Done Foundation, a nonprofit based in Shelby plugging wells across the country, approached the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and capped its first well on Earth Day 2020.

"They realized early on that there was an issue that certainly at that time was sort of beyond their ability to really address, just from a funding perspective," Shuck recounted.

Shuck explained his organization does not plan to accept federal money. When a well is shut off, it also stops the leaking of gases such as methane. Methane is 80 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

Shuck noted operations can vary between wells.

"Some wells are way more difficult than others," Shuck outlined. "Some of the deeper wells, some of the more hairy wells, I guess, are ones that really do require more dollars."

There are an estimated 200 orphan wells in Montana. Shuck acknowledged the issue is much bigger in other states.

"The reality is this problem is huge across the U.S.," Shuck emphasized. "Maybe not as overwhelming here in Montana as it is in states like Pennsylvania, for instance, where we're also working. And there the numbers are not only hundreds, they're literally hundreds of thousands, potentially."

To date, the Well Done Foundation has plugged 10 wells in Montana. Shuck said the kickoff for the next capping season in the state starts on the next Earth Day.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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