Clean-up effort in West Jefferson
By Peter Segall
OIL CITY — A nonprofit organization that plugs orphaned oil and gas wells is working on its first project in Washington, working on an old homestead near the Hoh River.
The Well Done Foundation is run by Curtis Shuck, a former oil and gas worker turned consultant, and to date has plugged 22 orphaned wells across the country. Shuck said he started the Well Done Foundation in Montana in 2019 when he was working as a consultant and visited a plot of land with abandoned wells on it.
“I happened across my first orphaned well and I was shocked and stunned and alarmed. I couldn’t believe somebody could leave something like that behind and think it was OK,” Shuck said. “It’s the surface owner that gets left holding the bag.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, orphaned wells are no longer in use and often have been abandoned by their owners, but without being properly sealed, they continue to leak carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Based on inventories done in 2014 and 2016, the EPA estimates there are between 2 million and 3 million orphaned oil and gas wells across the country.
The foundation started its work in Montana but has completed projects in Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania as well, according to the WDF website.
The project by the Hoh River is WDF’s first project in Washington, but Shuck said he lived in Port Angeles from the late 1980s until 2005, and it was his local connections that brought the well to his attention. Shuck was contacted by a family member of the landowners who had seen Shuck’s work on social media.
The well in question sits on a private piece of land adjacent to the Hoh River, near Olympic National Park and the Hoh Indian Reservation. The land is owned by Dave and Kathy Dickson — whose nephew contacted Shuck — and the well itself was drilled in the 1960s at a time when the area became known as Oil City.
This well never worked out, Shuck said, and was soon abandoned.
“They didn’t do a good job of plugging it and gas is escaping to the atmosphere,” he said.
Shuck said the landowners told him the leaking gas had been a family conversation piece for decades, with stories of “Grandpa Barlow” lighting the gas from the plugged well as a treat for the grandchildren.
In an interview, Dave Dickson said he and his wife hadn’t been concerned with the well, which sits covered by a single 55 gallon drum on a property of more than 100 acres.
“(Shuck) was interested in capping it and we said go ahead,” Dickson said.
The foundation is still in the planning phases for the well, which they’re calling Barlow No. 1, and Shuck said the design for how to cap the well will be done in consultation with state regulatory agencies.
“We’re going to ramp up our emissions testing on that well in the next month,” Shuck said. “This is likely going to be a springtime event.”
The work of actually capping the well should only take about a week, Shuck said, but he noted that projects can often run into unforeseen hurdles.
Shuck started Well Done Foundation with his own money, and he fundraises locally for each project. Fundraising for the Barlow well hasn’t begun yet, he said.
The Biden Administration advocated for $4.7 billion in the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, otherwise known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but Washington was not on the initial list of states eligible for that funding. Washington doesn’t have a large oil and gas industry, Shuck said, and he’ll have to bring equipment and specialists from out of state for the project.
Shuck said he started his foundation because the idea of global climate change can seem overwhelming and people often feel their individual actions don’t matter.
“Taking the approach of one well at a time, it makes it manageable,” Shuck said. “There’s a cumulative impact on the positive side. This is about giving back and doing the right thing.”