Kimberly Spence studies potential effects of fracking

Date posted: February 10, 2012

Kimberly SpenceBecky Kirkland photoRecent CALS graduate Kimberly Spence spent last summer investigating environmental and other ramifications incurred through the practice of hydraulic fracture of rock formations to release fossil fuels.

After her summer internship with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumna Kimberly Spence is more certain than ever of her decision to pursue a career in public health. A Park Scholar at N.C. State University, she graduated in May 2011 with a degree in biological sciences and started working at EDF soon after.

As the water resources and public policy intern at the organization’s Raleigh office, Spence spent the summer investigating the potential ramifications of a fracking industry in North Carolina. Her studies centered on a shale formation that runs under the Deep River in Chatham and Lee counties.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the propagation of fractures in a rock layer caused by a pressurized fluid. The fractures may form naturally, or may be man-made by injecting a highly pressurized fluid into rock formations in order to release fossil fuels.

“Through this project, we learned that if a fracking industry was to come to North Carolina, many factors would need to be controlled in order to not influence current users of the natural resources,” Spence said. “For example, the process may be more feasible during the wetter months, rather than when our rivers run with less depth.”

Spence created an analytical model with interactive charts that allow users to change variables such as the number of fracking wells or the number of days in the process in order to see the ecological and municipal impacts.

Her project was a direct response to the North Carolina General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 242, which allocates funding to determine if the practice of fracking is in the best interest of the state economically and environmentally.

“The biggest thing I learned was that environmental issues are not usually black and white,” Spence said. “With proper research, regulation and feedback, most new projects can be achieved.”

She describes her experience with EDF as “absolutely incredible” and credits the organization with making an impact worldwide.

“Working for them was a no-brainer,” she said. “I was very attracted to the possibility of learning more about North Carolina policy and politics in general. With the desire to go into the field of public health, I really wanted to broaden my horizons and gain knowledge and experience. The time I spent there opened my eyes to the way policies are formed and altered.”

Spence recently began studies toward a master’s degree in nutrition in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences. She also is pursuing certification as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and will take her certification exam this summer.

Blasting rock formations and helping women breastfeed may seem like very different endeavors, but to Spence, it all comes back to public health.

“They are very different, but also not so much,” she said. “I am interested in public health and benefitting the most number of people health-wise. What affects more people than our environment?”

After she earns her master’s degree, Spence said she plans to pursue a career in public health, specifically in the field of maternal and child health.

“I do hope to work clinically as a lactation consultant, but eventually I hope to make public health policy changes that make North Carolina and the United States more breastfeeding-friendly,” she said.

“Growing up I was taught to value my opinion and my right to exercise it by being an informed citizen and by voting,” Spence said. “However, after my experience with EDF, I feel more prepared to discuss difficult and controversial topics. I am able to consider both sides of an issue and understand that the solution is rarely A or B, but typically somewhere in between.”

– Suzanne Stanard

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