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Tracking Fracking – Adding Tracers To Find The Cause Of Contamination

Scientists are hard at work trying to develop an additive that will allow investigators to track what well and what oil and gas company is responsible when hydraulic fracking leads to groundwater contamination. Although debate continues on as to the environmental damage caused by fracking – oil and gas companies assert that it is safe while many homeowners have found their drinking water no longer potable after fracking occurs nearby – scientist hope that the use of traceable footprints will lead to an answer.

Andrew Barron of Rice University here in Houston is working with colleagues at the University of Alberta to develop what they’ve coined as ‘nano rust.’ The iron oxide compound can be made into multiple, unique forms based on magnetism and added to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to essentially create a fingerprint for any given well. The iron oxide could be traced back to its own well, and to its fracking company, if environmental contamination results from the fracking activity.

Another group of scientists in North Carolina are working on fracking DNA. BaseTrace is working on a technique for tracking contaminants from a well by giving every well its own synthetic DNA code. The synthetic DNA found at a contaminated groundwater site could then be traced back to the offending well, similar to how DNA is used in criminal prosecution.

Executive Vice President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association Deb Hastings appeared, at least initially, warm to the idea of adding tracers to fracking components. She viewed the additives as a way to prove to critics that fracking is in fact safe and not to blame for groundwater contamination and other environmental problems that have cropped up around fracking wells.

There is currently no law that requires oil and gas companies to use any kind of identifying additive when drilling using hydraulic fracturing techniques.

Source: National Public Radio, “Tracing the Culprit if Fracking Pollutes Water Supplies,” January 22, 2012

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