HOUSTON A small group of U.S. oil producers has been trying to exploit advances in DNA science to wring more crude from shale rock, as the domestic energy industry keeps pushing relentlessly to cut costs and compete with the world’s top exporters.

Now, U.S. shale producers can compete in a $50-per-barrel oil market, and about a dozen shale companies are seeking to cut costs further by analyzing DNA samples extracted from oil wells to identify promising spots to drill.

The technique involves testing DNA extracts from microbes found in rock samples and comparing them to DNA extracted from oil.

The information can help drillers avoid missteps that prevent maximum production, such as applying insufficient pressure to reach oil trapped in rocks, or drilling wells too closely together, Kshatriya said.

“I don’t doubt that with enough information could find a signature, a DNA fingerprint, of microbial genomes that can substantially improve the accuracy and speed of a number of diagnostic applications in the oil industry,” said Preethi Gunaratne, a professor of biology and chemistry at the University of Houston.

EP Energy, one of Biota’s first customers, insisted on a blind test last year to gauge the technique’s effectiveness, asking Biota to determine the origin of an oil sample from among dozens of wells in a 1,000-square foot zone.

Lascelles said DNA testing helps EP Energy understand well performance better than existing oil field surveys such as seismic and chemical analysis.