The business of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is booming. Between 2005 and 2013, some 82,000 fracking wells bored into the shale deposits beneath 17 states, according to the environmental advocacy group Environmental America. Fracking, its proponents are swift to point out, supports more than a million jobs (although the exact numbers are debatable) and has slashed the cost of natural gas.
But the explosion of fracking wells across the U.S. has had serious environmental fallout. The Environmental Protection Agency, in a 2012 report, suggested that fracking has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming; the EPA plans to release a full study of fracking's impact on drinking water later in 2014. Conservation groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wilderness Society argue that fracking is not only dangerous to humans, but also poses a threat to wildlife and the environment.
Just how hard fracking hits ecosystems, however, is murky. "We know very little about how shale gas production is affecting plants and wildlife," says Sara Souther, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a statement. Souther and her colleagues discovered critical gaps in the current body of knowledge surrounding shale production, which they reported in the journal of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.