What is fracking and is it harmful? Impacts of hydraulic fracking, natural gas explained.

Oil and gas is required for many of life's everyday functions. Cars, trains and planes all rely on fuel in order to move people around, leaving many dependent on them. Many also rely on gas and fuel to keep their homes warm during the winter.

Although there are renewable energy sources like solar panels and windmills as well as transportation alternatives like electric vehicles, the economy is still "hooked" on oil.

There are, however, many concerns about the negative environmental impact of the oil industry and its contribution to climate change. To better understand the impact of oil and gas on the environment, and even the health of individuals, it's important to know where oil and gas come from and what fracking is.

What is fracking?

Fracking is a method used to extract natural gas and oil from deep within the Earth’s surface, according to National Geographic. During the process of fracking, chemicals, water and sand are injected at a high pressure to open and widen cracks below the surface of the Earth.

There are many areas in the United States where fracking takes place including in the Marcellus shale formation in the northern Appalachian Basin. This includes areas in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, according to National Geographic.

Fracking on the debate stage: Why Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley clashed over it

What is hydraulic fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing is what is commonly referred to as fracking. The Barnett shale formation in northern Texas was one of the first places to use hydraulic fracturing technology, according to National Geographic.

What is crude oil?

According to Investopedia, crude oil is a fossil fuel made up of organic materials and hydrocarbon deposits. A petroleum product, crude oil is often refined to create diesel and gasoline.

What is natural gas?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel made up of many different compounds, with the largest compound being methane. Found deep under the Earth’s surface, natural gas is used as a fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

What are the negative effects of fracking?

There are many negative effects associated with fracking, both health-wise and environmentally.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, because of the toxic air pollution resulting from fracking, health effects include childhood leukemia, cardiac problems, asthma symptoms, birth defects and headaches. Some of the over 1,000 harmful chemicals used in fracking have even been linked to cancer. 

There are no federal requirements for drillers to disclose what chemicals they use, meaning that people often do not know what is being pumped into their communities. State laws are also poorly enforced and there is limited testing data on air and water quality, according to the NRDC.

Because of the many unknowns, nurses and doctors often have difficulty determining what chemicals a patient has been exposed to, the Natural Resources Defense Council says.

Fracking has also been linked to a loss of plant and animal species due to greenhouse gasses, toxic air pollutants, water waste and noise, according to Yale University. Fracking is also sometimes linked problems in communities with fewer resources, worsening their burden.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America on its website contends fracking "has improved public health by dramatically improving air quality in recent years. This is not to say there are no risks, but the full body of research on this issue shows that those risks are manageable."

The IPAA also says some states have "found that emissions during oil and natural gas development do not exceed public health thresholds." The association also says "two dozen scientific studies have concluded that fracking does not pose a major threat to groundwater."

Why are fossil fuels bad?: Explaining their impact on our environment

Just Curious for more? We've got you covered

USA TODAY is exploring the questions you and others ask every day. From "Is there gravity on the moon?" to "How many Zodiac signs are there?" to "How long does it take to charge an electric vehicle?", we're striving to find answers to the most common questions you ask every day. Head to our Just Curious section to see what else we can answer for you.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is fracking? Hydraulic fracking environmental and health impacts.