Yesterday's announcement that Texaco was seeking state permission to drill a $4 million exploratory oil and gas well in Charles County got a cautious welcome from local politicians, who must grant permits for the construction.
"We found it interesting and somewhat exciting to find there is a possibility of oil and gas being discovered in Charles County," said Thomas Mack Middleton, the chairman of the county commission, after meeting with Texaco officials yesterday. He said revenues from taxing oil and gas production could help the fast-growing county pay for new roads and other public services.
But Will C. Baker of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation warned that one oil well could lead to hundreds more.
"If oil is found, we are worried about the potential for oil spill, not only on the site, but in transportation to the refinery," Mr. Baker said.
The proposed well -- which would be the only one in Maryland's coastal plain -- would be drilled in a cornfield just south of Faulkner, into a deeply buried geologic formation called the Taylorsville Basin.
The oil company said seismic and geologic data indicate that the well would yield natural gas, and not crude oil with its potential to spill and wreak havoc on the bay.
The state's seismic data on the basin also indicate only natural gas would be found, said Robert D. Miller, deputy director of the state Water Resources Administration.
However, the company failed to find enough oil or gas in a test drilling on the Virginia side of the bay last year to justify a full-scale operation, said Jack Connelly, who manages Texaco's North America's exploration operations.
"But we've been digesting the data for about a year, and we decided we'd go ahead and try for a well on
the northern side of the basin," he said.
He added that there was only about a 1-in-25 chance of finding gas or oil in the basin, but those were odds typical for the United States.
Completing the test well is expected to take at least six months, company officials said.
In the test drilling, the company will have to comply with soon-to-be-strengthened state regulations, which are to include requirements for an environmental assessment and a land reclamation program, said Mr. Miller. The rules also will force Texaco to post a $100,000 performance bond and get at least $1 million of insurance for each well.
Nonetheless, Mr. Baker, the president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said, "We've spent a great deal of money and asked people to make a number of sacrifices to save the bay. We may be poised to turn the corner in terms of improvements, and it seems foolhardy at best to introduce a whole new source of pollution to the area."
He noted that the company did not respond to the foundation's request this week for a pledge not to pump oil out of the well if it were found.