It’s Friday, May 29, and this former oil man is fighting climate change one abandoned oil well at a time.

Oil and gas companies are supposed to plug up the deep wells they dig to extract fossil fuels from the ground once they’re done drilling. But when companies go bankrupt, some of them just walk away, leaving states to deal with (or, in many cases, ignore) those “orphan” wells. The millions of orphan wells scattered across oil-rich states aren’t just unsightly — they emit potentially millions of tons of methane every year they remain unplugged and pollute local environments.

Curtis Shuck, a Montanan with three decades of experience in the oil and gas industry, was driving south across his home state last summer when he noticed abandoned oil wells scattered across the landscape. Since then, he’s made it his mission to seal up these dormant emitters. Shuck’s nonprofit, the Well Done Foundation, aims to plug 20 orphan wells this year in Toole County, Montana.

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“Whether you’re a climate crusader or climate denier or you’re climate agnostic, you can’t look at what’s going on out there with these orphan wells and think that that’s OK,” Shuck told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “Because it’s really not. It’s not right. It’s not a partisan deal. It’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s just doing the right thing.”

The Well Done Foundation analyzes wells for several months before plugging them up. The wells it has studied so far emit an average of more than 5,000 tons of greenhouse gases (mostly methane) every year. After plugging a well, Shuck’s small operation restores the half-acre where the well was back to productive farmland. Not bad for a former oil man.

Zoya Teirstein

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