Kimberly Spence '11 Weighs in on North Carolina Fracking Debate

Shortly after graduating with a degree in biological sciences and a minor in international studies, Kimberly Spence ‘11 began her summer with Environmental Defense Fund.

As the water resources and public policy intern in the Land, Water, and Wildlife Division in the organization’s Raleigh office, Spence conducted a research project to begin assessing the potential impact that natural gas drilling and the process known as fracking could have on North Carolina’s water resources.

Spence’s project is a direct response to the passage of House Bill 242 during the most recent session of the North Carolina General Assembly. This legislation allocates $100,000 in funding to study whether fracking is in the best interest of the state. HB242 acknowledges that drilling for natural gas and fracking may be part of North Carolina’s future and allows legislators and other public officials to learn about the broader impacts of this controversial process before it appears on the landscape.

“Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is the process of removing natural gas from beneath the earth’s surface by blasting water, sand, and chemicals down a well to ‘frack’ the rocks underground,” says Spence. Removing natural gas in this way involves the use of millions of gallons of water for a single well. This process is highly controversial and is currently illegal in North Carolina, despite the fact that fracking is a common practice in states such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana.

There are two shale formations in North Carolina, one of which runs under the Deep River in Chatham and Lee counties. Spence’s work involved determining if the Deep River could support a fracking industry and, if so, during which seasons it would be most practical given water levels. In the process, Spence developed an analytical model that can be used to assess potential water withdrawal impacts in the Deep or other river basins of interest.

Kimberly Spence during her semester abroad in Ecuador.

Beyond her fracking research, Spence assisted with projects such as examining legislation, preparing background information for legislators, and tracking the records of elected officials on votes related to environmental issues.

Reflecting on her experience that was funded by the Park Foundation, Spence admits she gained a great deal from her summer with Environmental Defense Fund. “I have lived in North Carolina for 22 years and this opportunity allowed me to fully understand what it takes for a bill to become law in our state,” says Spence. “Each day, I also expanded my knowledge of subjects such as water policy, environmental impacts, and geography.”

Environmental Defense Fund exists to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. Guided by science, the organization designs and transforms markets to solve the most critical environmental problems facing the planet.

This fall, Spence began pursuing her certification as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.