Author: Cushla Sherlock
Published: June 7, 2012

Stepping on the Gas

Spectraseis technology provides important data for the oil and gas industry. The company is the technology leader in recording, monitoring, and analyzing subsurface microseismic fractures.

In a revamped warehouse on the outskirts of Zurich's well-known Technopark, the Spectraseis team is intensively working on changing the scope of the oil and gas industry. Thanks to the research and development of proprietary technologies, the Spectraseis team has become the technology leader in providing microseismic fracture imaging, stimulation evaluation, and seismic monitoring to the industry's major players. "Both international and national oil and gas giants find it more and more challenging to make confident decisions," says Martin Wagen, co-founder of Spectraseis. "Operators still base costly decisions on limited, often inaccurate subsurface information. With our cutting-edge innovations in the areas of surface and borehole passive seismic monitoring, data processing, and imaging we already are changing this situation."

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks 

In their simplest form, Spectraseis technologies record, monitor, and analyze microseismic fractures in the earth's subsurface. The resulting data delivers new information about fracture networks and reservoir properties to enable more efficient decisions about oil and gas drilling, and real-time seismic monitoring data helps the extraction companies avoid costly shutdowns due to earthquakes associated with their fracturing or wastewater injection activities. "Our technologies are based on groundbreaking geoscience research, enabled by the funding of nine PhDs and the publication of more than 200 research papers since 2004," explains Wagen.

Overcoming Skepticism 

Despite the benefits, old industry habits make the individual players tough nuts to crack. However, the Spectraseis team has overcome the deep-seated skepticism about the efficacy of its approach from scientists and researchers at several international firms to demonstrate conclusive scientific and commercial results, winning the confidence of several of the sector's most rigorous technology leaders. Following the significant transition from an R&D oriented organization to a commercial service provider, Spectraseis now works for several of the largest oil and gas companies in the world. Clients include Shell, Petronas, Chevron, Pemex, Petrobras, and Statoil. Over 70 patents and highly complex technologies make the barriers to entry for potential competitors high. Based on the sector's only broadband three-component nodal arrays system, the technology significantly improves the oil and gas industry's environmental impact. While traditional approaches require dozens of trucks and hundreds of people on site, new technologies need only a couple of vehicles and a team of 20 people. "With our new seismic monitoring services we are providing innovations to make fracturing a safe and publicly acceptable process," explains Wagen.


A Clear Gap in the Market 

It was not only to potential customers that proving the theory was a challenge. "We began as a typical start-up so we had to convince our family and friends to put their money into our business idea," says Wagen, reflecting on the company's beginnings in 2003. After identifying the undeniable market potential and with a bit of convincing to cover the start-up costs, Wagen and his friends, Ross Newman and Kent Johnson, quit their jobs and started the venture. As with most start-ups, there were plenty of bumps and learning curves along the road. "We had to put the right team together, develop a focused strategy, and target realistic goals. There were a couple of diversions, but we seem to be on the right track now," Wagen is convinced. Eight years on and the 55-man company is no longer classified as a start-up, but still follows the same business model that was implemented on day one.

Moving Up in the World 

To meet the rising demand from its customers for the exploration of unconventional reservoirs, Spectraseis reorganized its processes and expanded its footprint in early 2011. While its hub remains in Zurich, where it partners with the local university, the majority of operations were moved to locations offering closer access to existing clients and prospects. The most recent branch openings, where a majority of employees now work, were in Denver, Calgary, and Houston. An additional site is planned in Saudi Arabia. "Times are changing. The US was previously a big importer of oil and gas, but with its booming gas industry huge opportunities now also exist onshore. This also applies for the United States, which is slowly becoming a gas exporter too," explains Wagen.

There's No "I" in Team 

"We can put our success down to the entire team. We've been blessed with a bunch of enormously bright employees, although some of them are a bit odd," laughs Wagen. "While we are in a slow moving industry that requires a lot of patience and time to see real progress, and despite the fact that it is therefore often difficult to remain focused and motivated, our employees do an outstanding job." In a similar fashion, a climbing plant makes its way up the office walls of the Spectraseis offices in Zurich, unperturbed by the computers emitting reams of line graphs reminiscent of heart monitors. "With so many technical challenges we needed a bright space that promotes creativity," explains Wagen regarding the office furnishings.