ANNAPOLIS -- The state Department of Natural Resources granted a permit yesterday for Texaco to sink an exploratory well in a soybean field in Charles County about 1 1/2 miles from the Potomac River.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation had opposed allowing the search for oil or natural gas, fearing that it would lead to production of the fuels and potential damage to the environment in the event of an oil spill.
But Torrey C. Brown, DNR secretary, said yesterday that he has imposed rigid safety controls on the oil company. Moreover, the firm would have to seek modification of its permit to begin production.
Those assurances did not sit well with Mike Hirshfield, senior science adviser for the bay foundation.
"What we're afraid of is that when they want the modification they'll say they already have a permit, what's the big deal," he said. "They may have to jump through hoops, but they'll get the permit."
Robert Miller, deputy director of DNR's Water Resources Administration, called fears that such modifications would be easily granted and that oil tankers soon would be plying the bay and Potomac "an erroneous assumption."
The state stands to learn more about the subsurface geology of the area through Texaco's exploration, he added.
Texaco, which already has the other federal, state and local permits it needs, plans to sink a well 10,000 feet below the surface and figures to find natural gas in parts of the Taylorsville Basin, which stretches from Richmond, Va., to near Annapolis.
Deborah Alford, a company spokeswoman, said crews found natural gas in a well the firm drilled and capped in 1988 just across the Potomac in Westmoreland County, Va. The reserves weren't in commercial quantities, but they were large enough to make executives curious about what else might lie beneath the surface, she said.
Mr. Miller said drilling was expected to start in January and end in March, but Ms. Alford said the schedule may change because the company has begun work on its second test well in Virginia and has a permit for another site.
"It's unlikely that we would be drilling two wells at one time," she said. "And clearly, we will take into consideration what we learn from [the Virginia] wells to decide whether it's worth it to come over to Maryland."