Peter Duncan

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Peter Duncan
President year 2003
Membership Life Member

Peter M. Duncan is founding President of MicroSeismic, Inc. a Houston based geophysical service company. He holds a PhD in Geophysics from the University of Toronto. He began his career as an exploration geophysicist with Shell Canada before joining Digicon Geophysical, first in Calgary then in Houston. In 1987, Duncan helped Digicon found ExploiTech Inc, an exploration and production consultancy. He was named President of ExploiTech when it became a subsidiary of Landmark Graphics in 1989. In 1992, he was one of 3 founders of 3DX Technologies Inc., an independent oil and gas exploration company where he served as Vice President and Chief Geophysicist. Peter is noted for his expertise as a geophysicist, his leadership in industry, and his entrepreneurial spirit. He was awarded Life Membership in the SEG, was the 2008 SEG Distinguished Lecturer, and was the 2003-2004 SEG President. Peter was awarded the 2014 Virgil Kauffman Award.

SEG Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal 2014

In the past five years, Peter M. Duncan’s company, MicroSeismic, Inc. has become a leader in surface-based passive seismic monitoring and interpretation of microseismic signals generated by hydrofracturing and reservoir production.[1] His success is noted by many, with awards and acknowledgements from Ernst & Young (2013 National Energy Entrepreneur of the Year), Geophysical Society of Houston (honoree at the 2013 GSH Spring Symposium), World Oil (Innovative Thinker of the Year Award 2011), Inc.’s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies in US 2012 (listed as number 36 in the energy industry), Houston Business Journal (2010 Enterprise Champion award), and numerous other accolades. Through Peter’s leadership, MicroSeismic has become a dominant force in developing and applying microseismic technology and has caused the science of microseismic monitoring technology to become a key component of exploration geophysics.

Biography Citation for the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal 2014

Contributed by Mike Bahorich

Peter Duncan has a number of significant accomplishments, but his eyes grow wide when he describes something that made a huge impact on a friend. When Microseismic, Inc., had a liquidity event and employees had a chance to sell some of their stock, his secretary was able to buy a house — with cash. How does a secretary purchase a house with cash? By contributing to a team that is doing something so important that it grows rapidly and creates significant value in the process.

An early investor in Microseismic, Inc., said this investment in Peter generated the most significant rate of return in more than a decade of venture-capital investments. I remember well when Peter first described the birth of his new company. Frankly, I was not impressed. That’s because I was unable to see what he could see.

Peter knew passive seismic recording was going to become increasingly useful. He thought it might be used for reservoir monitoring or to see active fault slips. He also considered surface microseismic monitoring of frac jobs, but that was at the bottom of the list with a large red X across it. However, Peter is flexible. With time, he realized that surface monitoring of frac jobs might just work, and he was in a good position to provide that service.

Peter is also persistent because the early days of the company were not pretty. Some people told his wonderful wife, Kathy, that she might lose her house. For four years, Peter and the team worked out of a converted apartment leasing office with holes in the carpet. Even as late as 2008, SEG held a microseismic technical event, and Peter was the chair. Many people attending thought there was little benefit in surface monitoring, and the event further underscored the lack of maturity in the technology. Peter pressed on. After modest results with surface microseismic, the company did the first buried array in the Haynesville Shale. With phones buried 300 or so feet, the signal strength was significantly improved, and word traveled. Within a short period, MicroSeismic was flooded with requests to do additional buried arrays, and company revenues ballooned.

What many people do not know is that Peter accomplished this while doing significant volunteer work for SEG. He was SEG president in 2003–2004 when his company first began to grow. In 2006, he developed the SEG Challenge Bowl, which has grown to be a wonderful event. In 2008–2009, he was SEG Distinguished Lecturer, traveling across North and South America and Europe. Since 2003, he has led the Presidential Jam Session at the Annual Meeting. If you want something done well, give it to a busy person!

Peter’s company now has about 30% of the market share for frac monitoring, which includes surface microseismic, buried arrays, and downhole microseismic. His company can do all three. Through his insight, persistence, and flexibility, he has developed microseismic technology that has provided significant value for our industry and has helped to bring together geophysicists and engineers. He has earned several other awards for this work, but it is fitting and wonderful to see Peter recognized by his home society to which he has given so much.

Fall 2008 SEG Distinguished Lecturer

Aggressively passive: Microseismic opportunities over an oilfield's life

Passive seismic, especially microseismic monitoring, is to conventional seismic as a stethoscope is to a sonograph. It is continuous 4D. It is accomplished by listening carefully to the sounds emanating from the earth and then diagnosing what is happening down there. Passive seismic techniques not only can create an image of the reservoir and its plumbing, but also shed light on how the fluid is flowing through the pipes.

Grasping the completeness of the passive science, one can see that it provides the opportunity to contribute over the lifetime of an oilfield from discovery to abandonment. Passive seismic can accomplish reconnaissance 3D exploration at an attractive cost and lead to new discoveries. Microseismic monitoring of a hydrofrac can and does provide valuable information on completion and development strategy. Gas or fluid injection operations for primary or secondary recovery are prime candidates for passive monitoring to prove regulatory compliance, validate reservoir conformance and estimate recovery efficiency.

This lecture will present a view on the history and development of passive seismic techniques, a discussion of state of the art through case histories and a vision on where this technology will play a role in the smart oil field of the future.

Biography for President-Elect Candidacy 2003

Peter M. Duncan first experienced geophysics in the summer of 1970 as a geology student working on a copper prospect in Newfoundland. Fascinated by the IP equipment, he decided that prospecting with tools like these was exactly what he wanted to do in life.

Academically, he holds a BSc from the University of New Brunswick; an MSc and a PhD in geophysics from the University of Toronto.

He joined Shell Canada, Calgary in 1978 first in the Minerals Exploration Group then in the East Coast Offshore Exploration Group. In 1984 Peter joined Digicon Geophysical first in Calgary, later relocating to Houston. He started ExploiTech, a Digicon subsidiary offering multidisciplinary field studies in 1987. ExploiTech later became a Landmark Graphics subsidiary with Peter as president. In 1992 Peter helped found 3DX Technologies, an independent oil and gas exploration company. 3DX went public in 1996 and was acquired in 1999. Peter is currently COO of Chroma Energy, a Houston-based exploration services company.

Peter has been an Active SEG Member since 1979, and was awarded Life Membership in 1999. He served as vice president on the 1992-1993 SEG Executive Committee. Peter has been devoted to Continuing Education and served on that committee continuously since 1986. He served as CE chairman for CSEG (1984-86), for GSH (1987-89), and for SEG (1988-91). Most recently he directed the founding and development of the Distinguished Instructor Short Course (DISC) program. Peter's other affiliations include CSEG, GSH, EAGE, and AAPG.

Life Membership 1999

Peter M. Duncan is being honored with SEG Life Membership for his many contributions to SEG’s Continuing Education program. In addition to his long service as a committee member, chair, and instructor, Peter most recently led the start-up of the successful SEG Distinguished Instructor program.

Biography Citation for SEG Life Membership 1999

Contributed by Brian H. Russell

Whoever said “if you want something done, ask a busy person” had Peter Duncan in mind.[2] In addition to being a most innovative geophysicist, helping raise a family, and indulging a passion for music, Peter has been the volunteer “heart and soul” of SEG’s Continuing Education activities for 14 years. Those privileged to count Peter as a friend attest to a sharp wit and unlimited enthusiasm for life which leave all enriched. Since Life Membership is conferred for voluntarily rendering exceptionally meritorious service to the Society, let me detail Peter’s unflagging efforts on behalf of SEG. Peter joined the CE Committee in 1986 and has never left. He chaired the GSH Continuing Education Committee for two years and SEG’s Continuing Education committee for three (1989-92). The Executive Committee approved the Distinguished Instructor Short Course in 1996 but, as we know, approving a program and implementing it are completely separate. Successful implementation requires a champion. Peter became this champion. His vision and enthusiasm as chairman of the DISC Subcommittee were keys to very successful courses by Ian Jack and Philip Schultz. The third, with Robert Garotta, will start soon.

Peter also served as SEG Vice-President in 1992-93 as part of a particularly strong group (Marion Bone, Mike Schoenberger, Rutt Bridges, Ian Jack, Sally Zinke, and Pat Lindsey) which set the stage for a decade of change. Although Peter is rapidly becoming a Texan, his roots are in Canada’s maritime provinces (as we say north of the border, he’s from “down east”). Peter was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He obtained an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of New Brunswick in 1973. Peter then heard the siren call of central Canada, as many maritimers do, and earned his master’s and doctorate in geophysics at the University of Toronto. Peter’s graduate research resulted in many publications on gravity and electromagnetic methods.

Peter was then enticed further west. He joined Shell Canada Resources in Calgary in 1978. His initial assignment involved numerical 3-D modeling to aid airborne EM. He then switched to the seismic end of the business, and by 1982 was responsible for acquisition/processing of all marine data on Shell’s East Coast Offshore properties. This got the attention of contractors and in 1984 Peter was lured to Pulsonic Geophysical in Calgary as marine supervisor.

In June 1986, Peter became chief geophysicist for North America for Digicon in Houston. This involved supervising the marine marketing group and marine project geophysics group. Peter became vice president of Digicon before leaving to become president and COO of ExploiTech, a Landmark subsidiary, where he was responsible for all business and technical operations. Peter then helped found 3DX technologies in 1992 where, as vice president of Technology, he was responsible for technical activities and spearheaded the use of new software/technology (e.g., inversion and AVO) in the search for oil and gas. From March 1999 to the present, Peter has been vice president of Technical Services for Continuum Resources. Peter has brought a vast array of technical talents to this job, so there is no doubt that this company will benefit greatly from his presence.

Peter is a devoted husband and the proud father of two talented sons. His hobbies—piano, guitar, and singing—hint that one day he will be the headliner of some new folk club in Houston. I join Peter’s many friends in congratulating him on this recognition from his peers, and wishing him the best of luck in his future endeavors.


  1. SEG Honors and Awards Ceremony in Official Program and Exhibitors Directory, SEG Denver 26-31 October 2014 p.36-49.
  2. Presidential Session and Honors and Awards Program, SEG International Exposition and Sixty-Ninth Annual Meeting, Houston Texas, October 31 - November 5, 1999.

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