Seismic Provider SAExploration Files for Bankruptcy Protection

The proposed restructuring plan aims to eliminate about $74 million of the company’s debt.


SAExploration (SAE), headquartered in Houston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US Bankruptcy Court Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. The proposed restructuring plan aims to eliminate about $74 million of the company’s debt.

The company is a global provider of seismic data acquisition, logistical support, and processing services including acquisition of 2D, 3D, time-lapse 4D, and multicomponent seismic data on land, in transition zones between land and water, and offshore in depths reaching 3000 m. The filing highlighted SAE’s operations in North America, South America, West Africa, and Asia Pacific. On its website, SAE SAExploration states it maintains offices and/or operations in the US (Houston and Anchorage, Alaska), Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, Greece, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UAE, and UK.

In a declaration filed with the court on 28 August, Michael Faust, SAE president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board, highlighted the uncertainty in the outlook for oil and natural gas development because of the oil-price decline since early 2020 due to COVID-19 and its effects on the global economy and demand for oil.

The company’s “project visibility has continued to deteriorate as certain of their scheduled and anticipated projects have recently been cancelled or delayed and there is no assurance as to when they may be reinitiated or awarded, if at all,” the filing said. SAE is “unable to predict when market conditions may improve and worsening overall market conditions could result in additional reductions of backlog and bids outstanding.”

“Our industry has been hit hard. However, the good news is, we expect to operate seamlessly during the restructuring, retain employees, and pay our expenses. Our management team should remain in place. Once we emerge from Chapter 11, we expect to be well positioned for growth and to continue meeting the needs of our customers,” Faust said in a press release.

Concern about its debt was indicated in January when SAE sold Alaska North Slope seismic library data sets to a third party and used $14.5 million of the net proceeds of the sale to reduce indebtedness under its credit facility. Faust commented on 23 Januuary, “ … A high priority for us is to improve our balance sheet. The sale of noncore assets to reduce debt has been an important tool to deliver on that priority.”

Recent Contracts

SAE announced the following contracts in the past year.

April 2020—Greece. A land seismic acquisition contract valued at $27 million. SAE noted the project was expected to begin as soon as practical following the lifting of COVID-19-related travel restrictions in Greece and was expected to take 90–120 days to complete. 

January 2020—West Africa. Two contracts for 3D/4D data acquisition using autonomous ROV-deployed nodal recording technology in water depths up to 1700 m; total value $42 million.

November 2019—Alaska, Canada, and the Middle East. A combined $130 million of new projects including $112 million for onshore data acquisition services to be performed on Alaska’s North Slope over the next three winter seasons beginning in Q1 2020. Various contracts in Canada and a new research and development pilot contract in the Middle East with two major integrated oil companies, where thousands of next-generation wireless sensors, dropped by a smart, automated fleet of drones, acquire high-density, 3D images of the subsurface.

September 2019—Asia Pacific. A new shallow-water ocean-bottom marine project for a major national oil company valued at approximately $28 million.

Company Background

The company was started in 2006 in Peru as Exploración Sudamericana (South American Exploration) and in 2008 it expanded its operations into Colombia. In 2010, it established operations in Papua New Guinea and the opening of offices in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and Brisbane, Australia. In 2011, South American Exploration changed its name to SAExploration and, in the same year established seismic operations in North America with the acquisitions of Datum Exploration in Calgary, Canada, and Northern Exploration Services in Anchorage, Alaska. In 2013, a business combination with a “blank check company” [defined as a development-stage company that has no specific business plan or purpose or has indicated its business plan is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified company or companies, other entity, or person] under the name Trio Merger Corp. was completed in which SAE became a publicly listed company on the NASDAQ Capital Market.