In the rocky depths of the nation’s shale oil fields, thousands of feet below the production frenzy, primordial bacteria subsist on the very hydrocarbons that make up oil and gas and have transformed the U.S. into an energy powerhouse rivaling Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Oil and gas producers for decades paid them limited attention – until a cutting-edge startup recognized their potential to help produce oil and gas even more efficiently.

Now, as industry competition intensifies, a growing number of producers have partnered with Biota, a startup developing the means of achieving that goal by analyzing the bacteria that emerge from the wellhead. More than 20 producers in the Permian Basin and elsewhere have shipped rock and fluid samples to the company’s San Diego lab, intrigued by the promise of data that could help them drill more precisely, lower production costs and boost profits.

The Silicon Valley start-up Biota is analyzing bacteria to make oil and gas production more efficient.

As the map becomes more extensive and detailed, oil and gas companies would be able to confirm the source of crude – and adjust operations as needed – with information about the bacteria produced from the well.

It has since expanded the study to include more than 100 wells there in pursuit of a broader data set that could help it enhance its drilling models and more quickly determine the most efficient means of achieving production targets.

Eventually, he said, the deeper understanding of oil reservoirs through bacterial analysis could enable the company to respond more quickly to fluctuations in oil prices, helping to determine the most lucrative approach to production when prices rise or fall.