You've probably heard about the controversy over fracking, a method of pulling oil out of shales. Fracking involves pumping water deep into the ground to create fractures in rocks — in a best-case scenario, these fractures allow hydrocarbons to well up naturally. The problem is that you can't always control how the rocks fracture, and that means toxic fluids may leak into the water supply. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a good way to prove that fracking is causing contamination of water supplies, though there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. But that could be about to change.

Over at Dot Earth, Andrew Revkin calls our attention to BaseTrace, a startup that is making a simple product that could change the future of oil extraction. BaseTrace proposes to seed fracking waters with tiny amounts of DNA that would be like a signature attached to the water that's going into the Earth. For each company doing the fracking, there would be a unique signature. If a local pond becomes toxic, chemists can sample the waters and look for traces of the DNA. If the DNA pops up, they can be certain that fracking is to blame for the contamination — and they can even identify who is responsible.

These "traceable fluids" could help us understand how much damage fracking actually does to the environment. And they could be used to force specific companies to pay for ecosystem cleanup.

BaseTrace has just received $20,000 in seed funding to develop their technology, and many other companies are attempting to create their own traceable fluids. This could be a major step toward making fracking safer — by holding companies who do it accountable.

Learn more via DotEarth