PUBLISHED:October 19, 2018

Lauer joins Environmental Law and Policy Clinic as Science and Policy Fellow

Nancy Lauer

Dr. Nancy Lauer has joined the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic as Science and Policy Fellow. Lauer’s research interests include issues of environmental health, water quality, and science policy, which are central the clinic’s work. She was previously an associate in research in earth and ocean sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, where she received her PhD in 2018.

Lauer’s graduate research focused on water quality and environmental health, including contamination arising from coal ash disposal, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), natural sources, and oil and gas wastewater spills. She has published articles examining the threat that those wastewaters, which contain salts, toxins, and radioactivity, pose to public health, as well as findings determining the radioactivity of coal ash.

“We’re proud to have Dr. Lauer join our team,” said Clinical Professor Ryke Longest, who directs the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. “Her dedication to environmental health, her history of working alongside affected communities, and her experience applying a scientific lens to policy problems all equip her to bring an invaluable perspective to clinic cases.”

Lauer’s interests have been largely driven by communities seeking to understand threats to their water resources and develop strategies to protect them. She has worked closely with tribal members in North Dakota on contamination from fracking and with residents in Pennsylvania on potential contamination to streams and roadways from oil and gas wastewater disposal. In both cases, community members alerted the lab that they believed contamination was happening, and Lauer and her colleagues provided a scientific assessment.

“When you have problems out there that people are voicing and they need data to inform the solutions, it feels like a very natural pairing,” said Lauer. “Those communities don’t have a lot of scientific tools at their disposal. In the end, everybody wins. A scientist gets to do an applied study, and a community gets answers.”

Lauer developed a technique with resource management and policy implications that allows researchers to date fracking spills. “Regions like the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania have a long history of conventional oil and gas development,” said Lauer. “Fracking took off very quickly, and it was a new technology, so it got a lot of interest and concern. But some of the wastes that are associated with fracking are also associated with conventional oil and gas.” Lauer’s technique makes it possible to date contamination and determine whether it comes from legacy sources or is the result of recent activity.

Lauer has served as a guest lecturer, teaching assistant, and lab instructor for numerous courses at the Nicholas School. She holds a BS in geology from the College of William and Mary.

“The marriage between science and policy is an interface where I always knew I wanted to work,” said Lauer. “My time as Science and Policy Fellow will allow me to do that as part of a world-class group of students and faculty.”