Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) is the process of extracting oil and gas from under the ground by injecting water into the ground to break up rocks where hydrocarbons are trapped. The fracking boom over the last five years has been a big boost to U.S. oil productions. Formations such as the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota have become some of the largest producers of oil and gas. While it may be an innovative, new way to use the untapped resources under the land, the potential health risks to communities nearby is largely unknown.
Early research done by the Colorado School of Public Health found that babies born to mothers living with more than 125 drilling wells within a mile of their home showed a 30% increase in heart defects. The research was based on 59 individual cases in Colorado.
Another study done in Pennsylvania found that babies born near gas drilling sites had lower birth weights than average. Low birth weights in babies has been shown to lead to inhibited growth and cognitive development and chronic disease later in life.
Local authorities in Utah are also investigating a series of stillborn birth to determine if there is any connection to dangerous levels of air pollution that recent tests discovered near fracking sites in the Uintah Basin.
Some of the research that has been done is yet to be peer-reviewed and none of the early research has found a conclusive link between birth defects and fracking, so more studies are needed to determine what, if any, the association is with oil and natural gas development.