APALACHICOLA, Fla. — Residents and environmentalists are responding after a Texas-based oil company gained approval by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to move forward with exploratory oil drilling wells in the Apalachicola River Basin.
The company, Cholla (pronounced choy-ah) Petroleum, was granted permits earlier this month for six exploratory oil wells on four pads in Calhoun County, near the Dead Lakes, Apalachicola River and Chipola River.
“We’re a little nervous about those here in the river basin,” said Donna Knutson, an Apalachicola resident.
She said the town is still recovering from the effects of the B.P. Deepwater Horizon oil spill that happened almost a decade ago.
“I’m not saying drilling can’t happen, but I just don’t think it has to happen right now,” said Knutson.
Other residents say they don’t think it will ever be a good idea.
“I’ve never really seen an operation like oil drilling that doesn’t impact the environment,” said Lynn Wilder, another Apalachicola resident. “I don’t think doing this in a pristine environment is a good idea.”
Georgia Ackerman is the Apalachicola Riverkeeper; she believes the decision could be dangerous not only for the environment, but also for communities downstream.
“You’re also drilling 13 thousand feet punching through the aquifer during this process,” said Ackerman. “Our drinking water is provided by the Floridan Aquifer. If you have a spill, water’s going to carry those chemicals.”
She said this is a common concern she receives from residents in Apalachicola and in neighboring communities.
“If there’s any oil or other material that they’re using that gets into the river it’s going to do a lot of damage that I don’t think we can repair,” said Wilder.
A newly elected Apalachicola city commissioner, Adriane Elliott, said the town strongly opposes the project.
“If we poison our own water supply with the risks that come along with these exploratory wells, we’re going to end up shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Elliott.
Calhoun County Commission Chairman, Gene Bailey, sent a letter of support for the drilling wells to the Florida DEP., saying they hope it brings “necessary economic development to the community,” as it continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Michael.
News 13 reached out to Bailey but he has not returned our phone calls.
“I know that we need jobs in this area, but I don’t think at the expense of our river [or] our environment,” said Blountstown resident Allen Lytle.
Representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said:
“Every permit application is reviewed on a specific case-by-case basis by Agency staff to ensure that all aspects of the operation are lawful and are protective of the environment, human health and safety, drinking water and underground natural resources. The Cholla Petroleum application was thoroughly reviewed and satisfied permitting criteria. Under current Florida law, DEP had no grounds to deny the Cholla permit. This initial permit is for exploratory purposes only. Issuance of this permit does not guarantee that future permits or modifications will be granted by the Department.”
As the decision moves forward, Ackerman said she hopes the environment is a priority.
“We want to make sure that these wells, if permitted and construction begins, that everything’s done so that the region and the people are protected,” she said.