Six Maryland and Virginia congressmen today urged Texaco Inc. to halt its search for natural gas or oil in the Chesapeake Bay region, saying it poses unacceptable environmental risks to the estuary.
The House members, organized by Maryland's Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, wrote A.C. DeCrane Jr., Texaco's chairman, asking him to "seriously consider" withdrawing the company's applications to drill in Southern Maryland and at three sites in Virginia.
"The discovery and subsequent recovery of oil could have irreversible and irreparable effects on the health of the Chesapeake," the letter said.
Texaco spokeswoman Deborah Alford said the company planned to press ahead, despite the House members' objection.
"We feel that we can do the exploratory drilling . . . in a way that is not posing an environmental risk to the bay," she said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is reviewing Texaco's application to drill a 10,000-foot well near Faulkner in Charles County. A decision is expected next month.
Virginia has approved two of Texaco's three applications, and drilling is expected to begin there soon, Alford said.
Texaco officials have said that based on an exploratory well drilled in Virginia two years ago, they expect to find gas rather than oil, if they find anything at all.
Environmentalists have said that gas poses fewer hazards to the bay, but they object to the drilling because Texaco has refused to rule out tapping any oil reserves it might find.
If oil is discovered, the House members wrote, a spill from a well blowout, a pipeline break or tanker mishap could have catastrophic consequences for the bay. Unlike the Gulf of Mexico or Prince William Sound in Alaska, the site of the world's largest tanker oil spill, the Chesapeake has very poor flushing. Any spill could damage the bay for "generations to come, if not permanently," the letter warned.
Texaco spokeswoman Alford said the company will take "extraordinary" precautions to contain and ship offsite all liquids used and produced in the drilling operation, and to control a spill if there is a well blowout.
Besides McMillen, other signers of the letter were: Wayne Gilchrest, R-1st-Md., Steny Hoyer, D-5th-Md., Constance Morella, R-8th-Md., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, and James Moran, D-Va.