Attorney fights to lessen the impact of 'fracking' on Great Lakes basin

 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
 
“Fracking” — funny word, serious subject. And a hot button topic for Stephanie Karisny, a staff attorney at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in midtown Detroit. 
“A lot of my work now and in the past has focused on the issue of hydraulic fracturing,” she explains. “I was initially interested because of the huge — and I mean, seriously massive — volumes of fresh water being withdrawn and used to frack some of these high-volume natural gas wells. I’ve had the opportunity to write quite a bit on the subject but new developments occur every day and fracking is still a very relevant environmental issue in Michigan.”
In 2010, significant gas reserves were discovered in the Utica and Collingwood shales in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula — leading to the sale-at-auction of approximately 147,000 acres of state land for oil and gas development and the permitting and construction of approximately 209 new natural gas wells. The use of high-volume, slick-water hydraulic fracturing to “stimulate” oil and natural gas wells requires millions of gallons of water, and chemical additives, with the potential to cause significant water depletion and aquifer contamination. This natural gas “boom” triggered strong opposition from citizens and lawmakers concerned about health and environmental consequences.
Karisny and GLELC Executive Director Nick Schroeck, are in the vanguard in the fight to curb fracking’s impact on Great Lakes water, and to improve the patchwork management that has left huge regulatory gaps at federal, state, and provincial levels. The two have worked together since Karisny’s student days at Wayne Law, where Schroeck is director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic and an assistant clinical professor. She is one of three new staff members joining the GLELC, an independent, not-for-profit, public-interest organization that recently moved into a new office to accommodate its growth.
Environmental Law was a natural fit for this Detroit-area native. 
“In all my work, I’m being given the opportunity to conserve and protect the important places and resources that I — and others — care so much about,” she says. “Environmental work, legal or not, to me, is meaningful and I feel fortunate to be able to work in this field.”
Her zeal stems from a lifelong love for water. Like many Michiganders, she has spent her life enjoying the state’s lakes, rivers, wetlands, and Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system on earth.  
A swimmer from childhood, and a competitive swimmer during her school years, from a young age she also was very involved in Science Olympiad, especially the “Water Quality” event — which she both participated in and later coached. 
“All of these things piqued my interest in water as a natural resource and helped draw me into this field of practice,” she says.
She has shared her expertise in regional water issues through articles about “fracking” published in The Wayne Law Review, and Case Western Reserve Law Review; and in 2011 won a student essay contest sponsored by the State Bar’s Environmental Law Section that was published in the Michigan Environmental Law Journal.
But fracking isn’t the only water issue capturing her attention. The Asian carp — specifically the bighead, silver and black carp — threaten the Great Lakes because of their size, fecundity, and voracious appetite, scarfing food earmarked for native species. Some carp are up to 7 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. And silver carp, some weighing more than 20 pounds, can leap as high as 10 feet out of the water, no joke for boaters and jet skiers.
The carp had better be looking over their finny shoulders, if Karisny has her way. 
“I’d love to see some more movement on the issue of Asian carp and other invasive species in the Great Lakes — those guys pose a big threat to the health of our lakes,” she says. “And I hope the work of environmental groups and advocates will continue to grow awareness and interest in conservation and protection in the region.”
Karisny, who previously worked in private practice at a law firm in Troy, earned her undergrad degree in Language, Literature & Writing, magna cum laude, from Eastern Michigan University — putting herself through school by working as a hostess/waitress for National Coney Island at Detroit Metro Airport, and as an engineering aid with the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) in Warren.
“After graduating from EMU, I felt my options were either to start on the road towards a Ph.D. in something like English Renaissance Literature, and work in academia forever, or to go to law school and work go in the ‘real world.’ I chose law school and the rest, as they say, is history.”
She earned her J.D., cum laude, from Wayne Law, where she was a member of The Wayne Law Review.  
“I loved the people at Wayne Law — both the students and faculty,” she says.
With a focus on Environmental Law from the get-go, because of her interest in water resources, during her 1L year she discovered Wayne Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, which works with the GLELC. 
“I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “As a rising 2L, I wrote an e-mail to Nick (Schroeck), basically begging to be brought on as student attorney with the clinic, even though at the time older students were generally preferred. Thankfully, I was accepted and spent two semesters working with the clinic.”
During law school she interned with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago. 
“I really loved my time there — besides the thrill of working and living in a really vibrant and exciting city, I had the opportunity to contribute to some of NRDC’s most interesting programs and got to work with some really great people,” she says.
Karisny and her husband, Steve, live in Warren with their two cats, Albus and Bee; and spend most of their free time renovating and decorating the 1950s ranch they bought last year. She also loves to cook and garden, and is involved with the Birmingham Concert Band where she both performs as part of the clarinet section and serves as an active board member. And she continues to revel in her lifelong enjoyment of the great outdoors. 
“Most of my childhood memories are of spending time playing outside, swimming, and running around the neighborhood,” she says. “However, I will say that I become significantly less enthusiastic and outdoorsy on rainy camping trips.”

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