Whoever might have predicted nearly four years ago that innocuous-sounding seismic testing in northern Gulf County and southern Calhoun County would lead to oil wells should have rushed right out for a lottery ticket.

In the very near future, in an area roughly bounded by the Dead Lakes and the Apalachicola River, there could well be as many as seven exploratory oil wells.

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

Since that time, the agency has also announced notices to issue permits for six exploratory oil wells in southern Calhoun County.

The status of the Gulf County well, to drill near the Wetappo watershed, remains under the “notice” portion of the process, though the window for bringing a legally viable argument forward to compel withholding the permit has not been filed, based on the agency’s online records.

Direct inquiries to the agency as to the status of the permit were unanswered by press time which was constricted by the holiday.

In any case, based on permitting rules the permit should already be in hand.

The agency’s responsibility for public notice ends with the public notice that the agency “intended” to issue the permit.

Under the permit for Gulf County, 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.

The six other notices of intent to issue permits were for wells to be owned by Cholla Petroleum, which underwrote the seismic testing that took almost four years ago in Gulf and Calhoun counties.

The Cholla wells would drill even deeper than the well in Gulf County, nearly 15,000 feet.

Applications for all the wells make a connection from the seismic testing to the drilling.

The testing was performed with the theory that an underground formation was connected, way under the ground, to the Jay Field in Santa Rosa County/Escambia counties which has produced oil for decades.

Geologically, to get all technical, the target is the Smackover Formation within the Panama City Prospect, which sits beneath Gulf and Calhoun counties.

The Smackover Formation extends to the Jay Field, according permit applications.

The permitting is moving ahead despite strong public headwind.

The list of individuals and organizations which have submitted letters in opposition to one, two or all seven well applications extends well into the 100s.

According to the permit for Gulf County, 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 details for the six Cholla wells were similar in logistics and operations.

The FDEP permit is good for one year.

Cholla did drill a similar exploratory in Calhoun County but that hole proved dry.