A new study finds that people who live near areas where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is conducted are at a higher risk of being hospitalized for a range of illnesses like cancer, neurological disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

The study, published in the PLOS ONE journal earlier this week, looked at the relationship between fracking and healthcare cases in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011 and found hospitalization rates higher in areas that had oil and gas wells than those without it.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected underground to break apart rock formations and free up pockets of natural gas below. Fracking has turned the U.S. into the world's top oil and gas producer.

The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University found that 18 ZIP codes had "a well density greater than 0.79 wells per square kilometer, and residents living in these ZIP codes were predicted to have a 27 percent increase in hospitalizations for heart conditions compared with areas without any drilling," the Columbus Dispatched reported.

"At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing near their homes and this may add to the increased number of hospitalizations," Reynold Panettieri, one of the study's authors, said in a news release, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The researchers wrote that "[d]espite the growth in hydraulic fracturing, the health consequences of [unconventional gas and oil drilling] are unclear."