The Florida Department of Environmental Protection last week announced its intent to issue a permit to allow an exploratory oil drilling operation in northern Gulf County.

The issuance of agency intent Oct. 9 started a 30-day window for appeal.

Under the permit, Spooner Petroleum of Mississippi will be allowed to drill to a depth of up to 12,900 feet via the well, Bear Creek 34-4, in unincorporated Gulf County within the Wetappo watershed.

According to the permit, Spooner will build a 450 by 450 feet pad of “select fill, woven geosynthetic fabric and topped with limerock.”

A 130 by 30 feet driveway will provide access from the site to existing timber roads.

According to the permit, “All fluids produced (crude oil, formation water and wellbore cleanup fluid) during well drilling and testing will be hauled by contactor(s) to approved handling facilities.

“Associated natural gas will be flared on site.

Water use will be permitted through the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

In its application, Spooner said it will create a buffer one mile in circumference around the drilling site, which is on land leased from Bear Creek Timber, LLC.

“A 3-foot outer berm will surround the drill pad and is designed to contain any surface fluids and retard run-off into local water bodies.” the application detailed.

A secondary containment stormwater management system will contain runoff from the rig mat area, the permit application continued.

“This system will collect stormwater runoff and operation fluid volumes that could run off the drill rig during drilling operations (i.e. drilling mud, drill water, etc.); two sump pumps in the containment ditch which will direct the volumes into collection tanks.

“The storage capacity of the onsite retention system and perimeter berm is designed to mitigate risk of run-off during a 100- year storm event,” the application detailed.

The FDEP permit is good for one year.

Spooner Petroleum Company, based in Ridgeland, MS, sought a permit in August to drill on a 4.79 acre site near Wetappo Creek and the western end of the Dead Lakes.

The company has drilled a similar exploratory in Calhoun County but that hole proved dry.

The Gulf and Calhoun County areas were the focus of seismic testing three years ago searching for potential gas and oil deposits.

Cholla Petroleum, a Dallas, TX-based company which contracted for the seismic testing has permit applications for several drilling sites in Calhoun County before the FDEP; a decision on those is expected before the end of the month.

Spooner, who owns all mineral rights from the permit site according to the permit application, proposes to drill to a depth of nearly 13,000 feet over the course of 20-25 days.

Spooner’s target is what is known geologically as the Smackover Formation within the Panama City Prospect, which sits beneath Gulf and Calhoun counties.

The Smackover Formation extends to the Jay Field in Santa Rosa/Escambia counties, according to the permit application.

That Jay Field was pivotal to the testing and subsequent permitting.

The team of Lampl Herbert, contracted to perform the seismic testing, said at that time, “The working theory behind the seismic testing was that any oil and gas deposits found would be an extension of the Jay Field, which has produced oil, through conventional drilling, for decades.”

The Jay Field, in the western Panhandle, is referenced in Spooner’s application, which cites the seismic data collected three years ago, in its application to drill in Gulf County.

Apalachicola Riverkeeper and several local residents formally protested Spooner’s application.

"The development of oil and gas in this area threatens the basic quality of life due to the high risk of pollution of the surface and groundwater, subsidence of coastal plain, air quality, and community character...Exploratory wells bring the risk of releasing harmful chemicals into the wetlands and rivers. A period of heavy rain could be disastrous if it carries toxins into the river system," Riverkeeper wrote.

The advocacy group has also expressed alarm concerning the location of the drilling and impacts on the water supply for the city of Port St. Joe.

Despite the outcry and concern with testing three years ago, there is no indication in Spooner’s application or the FDEP announcement that fracking with be involved.

According to the specifications in the permit application, this will be traditional water and mud exploratory drill.