DNA Tracers Could Put End to Fracking Guessing Game On Water Contamination

Wed, 2013-01-09 05:00Carol Linnitt
Carol Linnitt's picture

DNA Tracers Could Put End to Fracking Guessing Game On Water Contamination

The oil and gas industry has just been handed an opportunity to walk the walk when it comes to 'best practices' for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for unconventional gas. BaseTrace is a cutting-edge technology that uses resiliant DNA tracers to give a unique fingerprint to fracturing fluid blends. Conflicts over water contamination often boil down to one point: was the contamination pre-existing or naturally occurring as drilling companies on the defense often claim? Or was it the industry's fault?

A technology like BaseTrace would give a definitive answer to regulators, communities, industry and policymakers alike. 

The question is, will companies like EnCana, Anadarko, Chief, BP, Chesapeake, Devon, EOGXTO (EXXON) and others actually take on the challenge? Will they walk the 'best practices' talk?

BaseTrace describes their solution to one of North America's most divisive energy conflicts like this:

Our solution is BaseTrace, a well-specific DNA-based tracer that can be added to the hydraulic fracturing fluid, enabling us to determine whether connectivity exists between drilling sites and ground or drinking water. The tracer is composed of inexpensive, inert strands of resilient DNA mixed into hydraulic fracturing fluid, providing each well with a chemical fingerprint that is simple and cheap to identify. BaseTrace can provide a definitive answer to questions regarding the fate of hydraulic fluid, thus reducing the issue of uncertainty in liability and improving information on well maintenance.

We believe our tiny tracer can play a large role in the development of clean energy, deriving technology from across different fields to provide the tools for accountability in the rapidly growing natural gas market and beyond. Regulatory hurdles for hydraulic fracturing are currently increasing, and larger companies are eager to voluntarily demonstrate Best Management Practices and explore the use of technology that shows environmental stewardship. Our services will also be valuable to smaller drilling firms seeking access to leases where there may be local barriers to entry due to groundwater concerns.


The BaseTrace method has already undergone extreme experimental tests to ensure the DNA tracers are resilient enough to withstand high temperatures, salinity and UV exposure. The company is currently looking for oil and gas developers to employ their product in the field.

The team at BaseTrace is comprised of several innovative graduate students from Duke University and the Pratt School of Engineering.

With all the controversy - and a new Hollywood film called Promised Land - surrounding the potential impacts of gas fracking on communities, the idea of tracing the source of any potential water contamination ought to be a welcome advance in the field.

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For years, the oil and gas industry has worked to convince Americans that the rush to drill shale wells across the country will not only provide large corporations with lavish profits, but will also create enormous numbers of attractive and high-paid jobs, transforming the economies of small towns and cities that greenlight drilling.

The industry's numbers are often picked up by policy-makers and politicians who back drilling, in part because talk of job growth is an especially alluring idea in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse.

But numerous independent studies have...

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