Possible oil drilling in Calhoun County creates controversy among locals

CALHOUN COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A Texas petroleum company looking to conduct exploratory oil drilling in Calhoun County has stirred some local controversy.

Cholla Petroleum was granted exploratory drilling permits by the Florida DEP in Calhoun County. Now some locals are expressing their concerns. (MGN)

The Apalachicola River runs through the heart of several area communities, but now some think a new threat could disturb that.

"Some want it and some don't," said Scott Monlyn, Vice-Chairman of the Calhoun County Commission.

Cholla Petroleum was recently granted permits to drill six exploratory wells in the Apalachicola River basin by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Georgia Ackerman, Riverkeeper and Executive Director of Apalachicola Riverkeeper, said, "The risk is significant when you examine the types of chemicals and drilling muds and contaminants that come on to the sites."

Ackerman said accessing the possible oil wells would require drilling through the Floridan aquifer where most Floridians get their drinking water.

"The city of Port St. Joe's drinking water supply is connected to a fresh-water in take canal off the Chipola River. Those are also concerns that we expressed to Florida DEP's oil and gas program," said Ackerman.

Some locals worry that a drilling accident could impact the Apalachicola River, while others say the possibility for drilling could present economic opportunity.

Gene Bailey, Chairman of the Calhoun County Commission, said, "So we're hoping that both it would provide jobs to help the families and also that it would provide income tax replacement for money that we have lost due to Hurricane Michael."

If oil is found, there is also hope it could fill the void of what was once the area's booming industry.

"This is a timber town, this is what we do here. I mean you plant a tree it takes 30 years for it to grow to its natural height for you to cut it again but Hurricane Michael took that from our families and they had to move away," said Monlyn.

Cholla still needs a conditional land use permit before it sets up shop. A public hearing to discuss this has been scheduled for January 21st.

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