Premier Drilling conducts exploration drilling work in Nevada. (Photo: Premier Drilling)

New tools and techniques allow drillers to do their jobs more safely and efficiently

By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief

When mining companies are exploring for minerals, and determining the subterranean characteristics of a mine site, quality matters at every stage of the drilling process, which includes drilling clean, straight holes that are on target. Premier Drilling Co. has the skill sets that mining companies expect.

“As conditions change, we adjust drilling and sampling methods and even drill rigs, if needed, to deliver results on time and within budget,” said James Stephens, client services manager for Premier Drilling. “We have the drilling expertise, equipment and specialized tooling to safely and efficiently deliver drilling and sampling services for mineral exploration and water well projects.”

Premier’s top priority is safety, Stephens explained. “Each project has a site-specific health and safety plan to follow. In addition, our supervisors and crews have completed multiple safety training courses taught by our in-house Safety Director. Safety and hazard analysis is at the forefront of every decision,” Stephens said. “We inspect every piece of drilling and support equipment before it leaves our yard to ensure it can complete the project safely and efficiently.

“We also inspect all tooling before leaving the yard, as it is delivered to the site, while making it up and tripping it in and out of the borehole,” Stephens said.

Premier specializes in reverse circulation (RC) exploration, core drilling, mud/air rotary, and dual tube flooded reverse methods. They are capable of drilling vertical and angled holes. Drilling boreholes from 3 in. to 28 in. diameter and depths as shallow as 200 ft. to 4,000 ft. The company offers 5.5-in. and 7-in. dual-tube drill pipe for RC and dual tube flooded reverse drilling as well as PQ/HQ/NQ wireline diamond core drilling.

Stephens attributes the company’s success to its top-notch drilling crews, and veteran supervisors using state-of-art tooling and equipment. “We follow process and procedures for doing everything, even for setting up a safe drilling site,” Stephens said. “We follow the same procedures every time so that they know what to expect when the next crew rotates onto the drill site. We are nimble, and we can adapt to changing conditions quickly.”

All of Premier’s drilling rigs are turning right now, and they are working two 12-hour shifts seven days a week. They are currently involved with drilling a 22-in.-dia., 2,000-ft-plus dewatering well and a lot of metallurgical and geotechnical boreholes in Nevada, ranging from 200 ft to 1,200 ft.

“We’re assisting the mining client and consultants with assessing the geology by providing them with the drilling and sampling information needed to design their mines. They use the information to determine bench widths, slopes and heights or if the ground is stable enough to support underground workings,” Stephens said. “Drilling to identify faults and evaluate the formation’s porosity is vital. Of course, mining companies are also checking samples for precious metals.”

Premier uses a track mounted Epiroc Christensen 140 drill rig to drill and recover PQ and HQ samples for the metallurgical and geotechnical work. On average, they are drilling about 75 ft per shift. They also perform packer tests by pumping water into or out of the hole and the fractures to determine the formation’s porosity. Premier’s services are currently in high demand, and Stephens wishes he had a few more key team members and drilling rigs.

Smart, Heli-portable Rig

The new Christensen 160 Smart secures core samples from the tough, remote areas where transport is a real challenge. This surface drilling rig — designed by exploration drillers — is built of individual modules that can be assembled rapidly and easily on arrival to the drill site. The new Christensen 160 Smart has been developed to meet the high demands required by the Canadian exploration market.

“The Christensen 160 Smart has a uniquely flexible design. It’s also a very reliable and powerful exploration rig”, said Ebrahim Nikafroozi, global product manager exploration at Epiroc.

The Christensen 160 Smart has been designed by local exploration experts in Canada. The quality components will maximize drilling time and increase productivity throughout the operation. 

Rapidly and easily assembled The Christensen 160 Smart was designed from the ground up as a heli-portable drill rig, consisting of heli-transportable modules. Extreme care has been taken in the design process in order to reduce the number of round trips to new locations. Only high-quality components have been selected. The individual modules can be assembled rapidly and easily on arrival at the site.  

An important part of this new rig is the smart control system which offers the operator automated drilling. The smart control system also reduces the number of components and contributes to keeping the overall weight to a minimum. Smart intelligent features also help to extend the life of consumables. With the help of MWD (Measure While Drilling), data from each hole is logged by the system and can be exported into Exploration Manager. This presents users with the ability to analyze data, find improvements and generate various reports.

The Christensen 160 Smart also includes several safety features, which will enhance operator safety. “With an automated solution such as the Christensen 160 Smart, features such as the guard and several safety interlocks serve to really increase safety,” Nikafroozi said. 

Meeting latest emission standards The new rig is equipped with a reliable 4-cylinder Cummins diesel engine which meets the very latest emission standards (meets both EPA Tier 4F and EU Stage V standards). It has the best power to weight ratio on the market whilst keeping fuel burn at a class-leading minimum.

A Corescan hyperspectral core imager. (Photo: Epiroc)

Epiroc Acquires Geoscan

During October, Epiroc announced its plans to acquire Geoscan, an exploration technology company based in Perth. Its main offerings are Corescan and Coreshed. Corescan is a leader in hyperspectral scanning, core photography and 3D laser profiling of drill core, rock chips and other geological samples with the associated processing and interpretation. Corescan offers an automated solution that increases both the speed and reliability of imaging, processing and data delivery. Providing a rapid and reliable mineralogical profile of each drill core, Corescan improves the mining companies’ decision making across exploration, resource modelling and ore processing. Coreshed complements this by providing an advanced digital core storage, visualization, management and data integration solution for drill core and other geological samples.

Geoscan has about 50 employees and had revenues in 2021 of MSEK 65 ($6 million).

“Mining companies continue to strive for greater orebody knowledge to strengthen productivity and consistency in their operations, and Geoscan’s solutions play a vital role in achieving that,” Epiroc President and CEO Helena Hedblom said. “This acquisition will complement our existing offerings well. We look forward to welcoming the strong team at Geoscan to Epiroc.” The acquisition was expected to be completed in the fourth quarter 2022. 

Mobile Sample Preparation

With the mining industry dealing with a backlog sending their samples to labs for test results over the past year, some companies are turning to mobile sample preparation units (MSPU) as a solution. This has turned out to be especially important in the early stages of exploration for companies requiring reliable testing data in real time to make important investment decisions to advance their projects.

In April 2021, SGS started working with Matador Mining to build a Mobile Sample Preparation Unit (MSPU) in one of the most remote areas of Newfoundland. Sitting on the edge of the ocean in Port-aux-Basques, a fishing town of about 3,000 people on the island’s southwestern tip, many were skeptical about the feasibility of building a lab there. The site is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from Deer Lake and the closest regional airport linking to the rest of Canada.

“The goal of the project was to find a way to more easily execute the testing that Matador Mining needed while staying mindful of the possibilities and problems associated with a location as remote as this one. We felt that if we could come up with a mobile lab, then we could staff it with local talent and replicate it across the world,” said Cindy Collins, director of geochemistry sales and business for SGS Natural Resources.

Collins said there are great benefits from MSPUs when it comes to sustainability. Instead of bricks and mortar, the MSPUs run on their own power and prepares samples for on-site analysis. Having their data faster, allows for clients to continue or even modify drill program strategies based on data they’ve already received. Once the program is finished, the MSPU is transported by truck to its next client.

A year later, the MSPU is providing an excellent case study for exploration companies around the world about what is possible. Instead of shipping 100,000 samples ranging from 3 to 5 kilograms across the country to their analytical facility in Burnaby, British Columbia, only 250 grams per sample are sent while the remaining materials remain with Matador on-site in Newfoundland. This means major carbon footprint reduction and cuts to CO2 emissions and points to the kind of positive mitigating effect on sustainability that investors and stakeholders are demanding, in addition to tangible action and accountability when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

Collins is optimistic for the future of the MSPU. “Currently we have three in Canada and several globally. By my projections, we should have several more across the continent by next field season with more to be commissioned this year. And for context, since 2004, we have had 35 MSPUs in places like PNG, Peru, Congo, West Africa, Mexico, and Kazakhstan. Since 2011, there are about 20 active MSPUs across the globe. It’s exciting and encouraging to be a part of this growth.”

Collins adds by having SGS train and employ a local workforce at the exploration site, the MSPU in Newfoundland have been well received.

“We’ve seen great examples of how the community gets behind the project because of how it benefits them,” Collins said.