CUT BANK — The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the United States has 3.5 million orphaned and unplugged gas and oil wells. It also estimates those wells emit 20 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide emissions each year. Removing those emissions levels takes the equivalent of 4.45 million passenger vehicles off the road or planting 330 million tree seedlings for 10 years.
That's the mission of the Well Done Foundation. "It's about doing the right thing and leaving it better than we found it. We're not a policy shop. We're about boots on the ground making a difference one well at a time," explained Curtis Shuck Jr, CEO of the Well Done Foundation.
The Montana-founded and based company has a goal of plugging each orphaned gas and oil well in its home state and the country. It's a large and expensive task, privately funded by donor support and organizational fundraising efforts.
On Monday, October 9th and 10th, the Well Done Foundation plugged its 24th well in Montana and its first on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation south of Cut Bank.
Grant Ostby is not the owner of the land but has farmed the property for 30 years.
He says, "They're orphaned, they're in the way. They're not in production and there's nothing getting done."
Ostby has two wells that are under the responsibility of the Well Done Foundation. Both wells are 20-year old "legacy wells." A legacy well is a fixture that was placed by one company initially, and over time has passed ownership back to the landowner, eventually falling into the state and taxpayer's hands.
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"In the time it takes, we can damn near, go around some of these and seed another acre or spray another acre. It's hugely inefficient." Ostby expressed his resentment to the wells.
The Ostby well is similar to many wells across Montana's Hi-Line and around the country. In the Palmer Bow Island #01-4 well, Schuck demonstrated to MTN News the gasses that are being emitted 24/7 from the orphaned well. It was apparent the fixture was emitting gas from the sulphuric aroma surrounding the quarter-acre plot. On a fitting to multiple nozzles at the top end of the well, there is a small crack in the welding of the fixture. It makes a small hiss and the wave of emitted gas is visible to the eye. Shuck, poured bubble-soap onto the fixture, which was filled with gas to demonstrate the emission of the well.
Following that demonstration, Shuck displayed his solar-powered iPad reading system which displays the exact emission of the well. The Ostby well was emitting primarily Methane gas, along with a large chunk of Nitrogen, and approximately 10 other gasses.
Schuck compared the emissions of the well, equivalent to 4,000 cars worth of emissions on the road each year.
"If it's worth doing, it's worth measuring. Right? That's kind of the way that we look at it."
The Well Done Foundation is working to provide training to the Blackfeet Tribe to learn how to work on oil and gas wells in the area. Providing jobs and economic opportunity to the community. The Foundation has already provided jobs to local residents and brought in out-of-state employees from California, North Dakota, and Canada to plug the wells. Those employees live in the community of Cut Bank and feed the local economy.
The Well Done Foundation wanted to note that its goal isn't to do harm to oil and gas companies but to do right by the damage left behind from the orphaned wells.
Billy Halabiski, Route Manager said it best, "The longer these wells are open like this, the more damage you can cause to the ground, the water, the air. What we do here is a little bit different. It's like we're actually kind of giving back."