As a contentious natural gas extraction process, fracking has the potential to greatly increase the country’s domestic energy supply but many people fear it will also compromise drinking or agricultural water sources. First Flight resident company BaseTrace is developing technology that can help determine whether there is a link between fracking activity and potential ground water contamination.

BaseTrace has pioneered the concept of a well-specific DNA-based tracer that can be added to the hydraulic fracturing fluid at drilling sites, enabling assessment of whether these sites do in fact impact ground or drinking water. The tracer is composed of inexpensive, inert strands of DNA, providing each well with an identifiable chemical fingerprint that will reveal the trajectory of the hydraulic fluids.

When first conceptualizing BaseTrace, co-inventors Justine Chow and Jake Rudolph realized any potential tracer would have to be robust, enduring extreme temperatures and pressures within the drilling environment. Currently, the DNA tracer is being tested for survival under a variety of conditions, including extreme UV exposure, heavy metal concentrations and high salinity.