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What drilling professionals wish you knew about hiring drilling contractors. Read this before hiring your next contractor!

July 25, 2023

What drilling professionals wish you knew about hiring drilling contractors. Read this before hiring your next contractor!

Drill Program Planning
For Geologists
Written by
Megan Gammie

Discover the secrets to hiring the best contractor for your drilling campaign - as told by a drilling professional with more than 40 years of experience in the drilling game.

Is this you?

  • You have been tasked with hiring a drilling contractor for the first time
  • You’ve hired drilling contractors before but you weren’t sure what you were doing so you made a decision based on gut feel, or
  • You have a drilling team on-site right now but things aren’t panning out like you thought they would but you can’t put your finger on why?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Choosing the right drilling contractor is incredibly important to the overall success of an exploration project. But it’s not necessarily a skill that’s taught as part of a university earth science degree.

You may have learned a lot about the theory behind drilling, but nobody understands the reality of being on the levers quite like an experienced drilling contractor does. A great drilling contractor can bridge the gap between science and art to deliver exceptional quality and metres, but this isn’t something that you can distinguish when looking at a tender.

So. who better to ask than an experienced drilling professional  who has seen just about everything when it comes to picking the best drilling contractor for your next project?

Enter Stephen Dann, an industry veteran with over 40 years of experience in mineral drilling, from hands on the levers right through to general management of multinational companies.

Stephen recently shared some of his top tips for choosing the right drilling contractor with us over on LinkedIn, and was kind enough to want to spread the word by immortalising it on the CorePlan blog.

Good on ya, Stephen!

Stephen’s 3 Top Tips for Choosing the Best Drilling Contractor for Your Exploration Project:

  • Read the tender documentation before you look at the pricing page

“Exploration teams always want to see all of the information - but then they go straight to the pricing page without viewing the documentation. But the thing is, pricing isn’t necessarily the best way to compare drilling contractors. What actually sets drill contractors apart from one another will be found in that tender documentation, not on the price list.”

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover

“If you don't get your accountant to chose who the best dentist is for you then don't let your commercial manager chose who the best drilling contractor is. As above, you get what you pay for so make sure there are multiple end users who have significant input in to who you select. Just because a contractor may not look like the best option on paper they may well turn out to be the best option when they get in to the field.”

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

“If it looks too good to be true then it probably is. If a tender price is significantly out of line with others then you need to be wondering how someone can do it so much cheaper ? Ask the questions about staff turnover, age of equipment, availability, mechanical back up for breakdowns etc and more importantly check with your contacts within the industry for feedback. The bush grapevine still works pretty well!”

Thanks to Stephen for sharing these pearls of wisdom with us based on his 40 years of experience. Connect with Stephen on LinkedIn to keep in touch with his movements in the drilling industry.

What if you’re already in the field? How do you know if you’ve struck gold with your drilling contractor?

In a previous article, I shared a few key metrics and data points to look at, with explanations and formulas, to help early-career geos understand and compare drilling performance.

But what about the other parts of drilling performance that aren’t as measurable? Here are a few good signs that you're on to a winner that came out of the discussion on the comments thread.

  • The drillers work with the rig, not against it

Pushing for metres by drilling faster can impact sample quality and even damage rig equipment, creating unnecessary standby time and costs. However, spending more time on drilling doesn’t necessarily create the opposite effect. A great driller knows that a middle ground can be found somewhere in the middle, and to get there, they need to listen to the rig and let it guide them.

  • Taking pride in the job and the crew

How would you feel if a drilling contractor produced great metres but kept a dirty or cluttered site? Other than leaving a bad taste in your mouth, you might have concerns about corners being cut in other areas of the drilling, like not giving sufficient care to the samples. Drillers who care about what they do will also care about what the client thinks about what they do. This is reflected in all aspects of the job, whether it’s the sample quality, cleanliness of the site or being careful to minimise the use of valuable and expensive resources like fuel and water.

A great drilling contractor will speak highly of their drillers and provide them with the tools and working environment that empowers them to succeed. This is often reflected in a low turnover rate and no problem finding new staff when positions become available.

  • Transparency and collaboration

An emerging group of drilling contractors have seen that their client’s expectations are changing. Exploration teams have a demand for data like never before. Sending drilling data at the end of the week or the end of the month is no longer seen as an acceptable practice, plus it takes up a large amount of time trying to go through the data in big chunks - usually at the expense of geology time.

Digital drilling contractors have realised this a problem and are responding by providing data on a shift-per-shift basis, already in a digital format, that provides increased transparency about what’s happening on the rig and why, and less time is required for data wrangling. This helps geologists make more informed decisions and collaborate with their drill contractors in a real partnership.

You can find a list of drilling contractors with these capabilities here.

  • Relationship building

The driller is invested in the relationship and works with you in partnership. They want to help you make a discovery, they aren’t just there to churn out metres. They listen to your needs and collaborate with your geos to meet your project goals.

Now that’s a driller you can trust!

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