The ownership rights of a seismic data asset can be complicated, especially considering the multitude of ways that surveys are acquired and exchanged in today’s market. Oil and gas companies know that the ownership records become very important in situations where data assets need to change hands or when assessing the data’s value. Not knowing the entitlement rights of a data asset can cause a delay in transactions, affect operational concerns, increase liability or, in the worst-case scenario, end in a lawsuit.

Challenges for data managers

Data managers for the oil and gas industry have most likely been exposed to numerous different types of records that exist to determine a seismic line or survey’s true ownership. Poor historical records, missing records and lack of detail on contracts are just some of the common occurrences that data managers have to face when researching ownership. These issues can arise when individuals are not familiar with or properly trained in handling or generating legal documents. Poor records can also result from industry cycle booms, when there is not enough time to focus on properly documenting transactions.

The risks of unknown ownership apply to most corporate assets, and seismic data is no different. In many cases, ownership is overlooked until an organization is looking at alternative ways to generate revenue via licensing sales or the company wishes to divest of some or all of its corporate assets and needs to know who else owns the data before proceeding. Perhaps the organization is trying to reduce liability exposure or has the misfortune of being involved in a lawsuit or litigation, when complete records are crucial to the legal process. For any of these scenarios companies must determine the best course of action to understand who else may have a claim to their seismic data.

Establishing a rating system

The big question is how do companies go about determining their entitlement? Given the volumes of records that exist and in the face of poor data management practices, the task can seem impossible. For this reason data managers should establish a rating matrix system before even picking up a contract. Since not all contracts are clean and clear, this system can help them begin the process of organizing and prioritizing their records. The rating system can be used to rank each and every survey that data managers get their hands on.

To ensure that the company can mitigate risk, legal and management should approve the overall structure of the rating system before it is put into effect. Once a rating system has been determined, this system needs to be shared with other departments such as land to ensure that, going forward, documentation and transactions are dealt with properly when seismic datasets are involved.

Internal investigation – know the experts

When beginning an internal investigation, data managers will need to know where historical seismic contracts have been stored and the taxonomy that was used. Engaging with the geophysicists who have spent the most time working with the data can provide insight into legacy information. It’s also a good idea for data managers to become collaborators with other internal departments such as the mineral land, acquisition and divestiture, and accounting departments. Most likely their input will be required at some point to gain access to their records.

External investigation

Data managers are not alone in this endeavor and should utilize public sources of information. There are external resources that can either help validate their research or handle the entire process for the company. Many reputable service companies are familiar with seismic data ownership and can take on the investigation, saving money in the long run.

Katalyst Data Management has assisted a number of organizations with data ownership and records management over the years and employs experts who are familiar with the regulations that apply in various regions around the globe. Their data management solution iGlass is designed to properly manage and maintain various types of records for the complete subsurface data life cycle. Once ownership is validated, proprietary seismic data can be marketed on its ecommerce site,

For more information on ownership records and subsurface data management, visit Katalyst Data Management at or stop by EAGE booth #515 for a demo.