Fracking is an energy industry technology that shoots water mixed with many different chemicals – several of which are toxic – into the ground to release natural gas.
The vertical method has been around since the 1940s, but recent innovations have allowed for horizontal wells that, while more prolific in their natural gas production, can cause drastic environmental damage.
Although the technology has contributed to reducing America's reliance on foreign oil, the procedure has been linked to groundwater contamination, and the Environmental Protection Agency has been slow to issue new guidelines.
In February 2013, the Society for Conservation Biology sent a letter to the heads of the Department of Interior, Department of Energy and the acting director of the Environmental Protection Agency. The letter states that the minimally regulated fracking technology should require more federal oversight.
The environmental concerns are many, especially regarding the issue of wastewater. According to the SCB, the average well requires 5 million gallons of water, water that is difficult to decontaminate once used.
"Contaminated fracking fluid either remains belowground, with entirely unknown long-term effects on biodiversity... or returns to the surface as contaminated 'produced' or 'flowback' water," the letter states.
The SCB letter also raises questions about the chemicals used, citing previous research that suggests the added compounds create serious concern for human life.
"Of the 353 known chemicals used by the natural gas industry for which health-related information is available, a recent review found 25 percent to cause cancer or genetic mutations, 40-50 percent to negatively affect internal organs, and 75 percent to disrupt sensory organs," the letter states.
The letter also notes that many other chemicals are not disclosed by the companies, as they are protected as proprietary business information.
Efforts to contain the millions of gallons of contaminated water produced by fracking have proved ineffective. Even efforts to contain the water in ponds have problems. The concrete or rubber linings that are supposed to prevent leakage into the environment are subject to fail, and do not prevent wildlife from accessing it.
Another form of disposal is to spread the wastewater directly onto landscape. This practice is used in several states, including the neighboring state of West Virginia.
In a study conducted in 2011 by Mary Beth Adams and published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, land application of wastewater in West Virginia resulted in the death of all undergrowth within several days, and the death\ of over half the trees in the area within two years.
In addition to the water contamination issues fracking presents, the process itself is only aggravating to the problem of global warming. While reliance on natural gas instead of oil results in less carbon emissions, it emits damaging quantities of methane.
"Methane emissions, which represent a contribution to climate change 20 times greater than that of carbon dioxide on a per unit basis, are 30-50 percent higher in fracking compared to other forms of natural gas extraction," the SCB letter states.