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Capped off

Crews work to plug nonproductive energy wells

Dan Olsen
Derrick hand Jason Hammond, left, relays signals from Ryan LeMay to driver Jerry Champlin near the Wyoming state line in Moffat County in 2017. The Continental Industries workers spent two days capping an old natural gas well before returning to Casper, Wyo.
Dan Olsen/File

— Northwest Colorado is no stranger to energy drilling, and throughout the years, dozens of nonproductive wells have been drilled and abandoned.

As energy companies drill new holes in the continued exploration to keep the country supplied with natural gas, states sometimes require some of the old holes to be capped and sealed for environmental and safety reasons.

That’s where Ryan LeMay, Jerry Champlin and derrick hand Jason Hammond enter the picture.

“This is the first time in five years we’ve come out of Wyoming to work on a well,” LeMay said. “We don’t go and do production or completion. We do P&A. That stands for plug and abandon.”

The crew works for Continental Industries out of Casper, Wyo., and the stop to complete a project in northern Moffat County near the Wyoming state line Wednesday was scheduled out of convenience.

Returning from a project in Utah, the crew was directed to the well south of Baggs, Wyo., as they “backtracked their way home.”

They will spend two days at the site plugging the abandoned natural gas drill hole.

Most of the wells they are called to cap are 40 to 50 years old.

The first step involves installing a cast iron cement retainer plug into the shaft, and then filling the hole with cement.

“This is a 4 1/2-inch casing,” LeMay said pointing to the well. “We pour cement below and on top of the plug, working our way back out.”

The 4,500-foot well will receive the plugs near the perforation holes that once allowed natural gas to escape the rock and be pumped off.

About 200 feet of the hole will be filled with cement, and the wellhead will be removed from the surface.

Three feet below the surface, a cement-cap will seal the well, with dirt back-fill making the area safe from any well hazards.

The tough part about the job is the crew is always on the road, spending five, 10-hour days at work in the Wyoming oil fields.

Business is good, LeMay said, because they are a “do-it-all” crew, and that helps keep costs down when bids are submitted to cap wells.

“We’re really busy,” LeMay said. “Usually, we have five or six guys, but we’re really shorthanded now.”

The crew will be back in Casper by the weekend waiting for the next call to take them across the state, and occasionally out of state.

“Sometimes the job is only 20 minutes from the house; sometimes its 200 miles,” LeMay said. “It all depends on who calls.”


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