Expert resigns after rejection of rules

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Practice tied to fracking is too risky, Bower says

David Bower has been in the oil and gas business for more than two decades. With an extensive background in hydrology, geology and large-scale environmental cleanup operations, he had the knowledge and experience to sort through the details of Elbert County’s proposed oil and gas regulations, volunteering his time and expertise freely.

But when the Board of County Commissioners rejected those regulations, Bower resigned his appointed position on the County Water Advisory Committee, effective Aug. 3.

And he’s not the first.

Bower’s departure follows on the heels of other local experts including Grant Thayer, a retired petroleum engineer who helped spearhead the non-partisan committee charged with editing and refining the county’s proposed oil and gas regulations.

In his letter to the BOCC, Bower, a development engineer with Concord Energy, a company that specializes in recycling produced water used in the oil and gas industry, cites local politics, lack of direction and disappointment with the board’s decision.

More importantly, he criticizes the use of produced water, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, which has been a major stumbling block in formalizing the county’s position for drilling and exploration.

“I cannot resolve myself to the issue that the intent, or implication that the use of produced water for dust control or in open pit storage in the county rules is above or beyond state or federal control,” he writes, noting the practice is more suited to “unconscientious and unscrupulous operators working in the industry.”

District 3 Commissioner Larry Ross commended Bower for his service to the community and his offer to still provide technical assistance when needed.

“I’m disappointed that Dave felt he had to step away from this,” Ross said. “I think it’s important to recognize folks with specialized knowledge, like Dave, step forward and offer assistance to the community, and we shouldn’t disregard them.”

District 1 Commissioner Robert Rowland said he’s not sure what to make of Bowers’ resignation.

“I was forwarded a copy of his email, and responded immediately,” Rowland said. “And to date, I have not heard back from him. If he’s upset about the board’s decision, I’m always open to talk about it, but otherwise, until I hear from him, I’m still kind of in the dark on the matter.”

Bower, who makes his home in Elbert County, says he’s perplexed as to why the county would even consider the produced-water practices in today’s marketplace.

“For major operators, there’s just too much risk, and if there was an incident, the Environmental Protection Agency would be on them like a rash,” he said by phone. “Big oil companies that can afford to drill a well and then sit on it for two years don’t waste time or money with produced water. The cost is negligible.”

Bower said he expects the practices to be discontinued in the future. Produced water does not go onto roads or into pits in Elbert County now, and the proposed regulations would have prevented the practices in the future, but the county balked at the restrictions.

There’s another issue Bower touched on. In some areas of Elbert County, Bower said, pulverized coal ash, the material that remains after coal has been burned to generate electricity, has been used in road construction, and when mixed with produced water may generate some unusual chemical concoctions.

“We are really sad to see Dave go,” said Tony Corrado, also a member of the oil and gas editing committee. “We have a lot of really smart people here in Elbert County that brought a real level of expertise to this project, and for what?”

Bower said while he may no longer be an official part of the process, he plans to continue to press for rule changes at the state level.

“All I can say is ‘Watch this space,’” he said with a chuckle. “I’m pretty good at shaking things up at the regulatory level.”