Barge drilling: Forage Fusion Drilling and Warkentin Fabricating battle the Canadian wilderness

May 17, 2023

by Michael MacTavish, Owner at Forage Fusion Drilling and Jordy Warkentin, Owner at Warkentin Fabricating

Our company Forage Fusion Drilling was first invited to bid in the fall of 2020 for a 1000 m (3281 ft) N-size lithium drill program for Patriot Battery Metals in their Corvette Property in James Bay, Québec, Canada. Lithium really seems to be the go-to commodity in the world right now.

In the years since winning the contract, our work has grown tremendously. Currently, we have 55 active employees on-site, and come summer, we should be ramping up and expect to have around 70 people with an increased number of active drills. The team comes from all over Canada – east to west, and it is tackling several different tasks to meet and exceed the requirements of our clients.

Final material drop for on-water assembly
Final material drop for on-water assembly

Challenges and team

We have faced several challenges on this project. One of the most significant was the 27 km (16.78 mi) winter road access in 2023, we had to do bridge installations, and we had to do heli-portable barge work in 2022 while drill-ing on very shallow lake/river systems doing 45°-angled holes. None of these challenges were too big for our team, as the crew is well-experienced, and the guys are always looking for a new challenge. So far, everything they have been asked to do, they have accomplished. As a company, we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. We must take our hats off to the guys on the ground.

Drill fleet

We have a fleet of MPP Discovery drills from British Columbia, Canada, and along with Odyssey Fluid Power of North Bay, Ontario, we were able to modify them to our specifications. Our Discovery drills can reach a depth of 800 m (2625 ft) N-size, which is far more power than the project requires. They remain as light as possible, which is particularly important while drilling in 2-3 ft (0.6–0.91 m) of water, and helicopter hole-to-hole moves are required. The Discovery drills really shined.

Barge drilling

Our barge was designed by one of our operation managers, who had come up with the idea after drilling a winter program. He knew that the client needed to get the information from what was lying under the lake. A road at the time wasn’t worth it because the site was still in the early exploration stage. That’s why he came up with the idea and proposed it to the client.

At first, it seemed a bit crazy, but after putting the numbers and doing some calculations on paper, it made sense. And since the client really wanted them holes drilled, we drew up the plan.

That’s when we contacted Warkentin Fabricating in Harrow in South-Western Ontario and we sat down with Jordy Warkentin, the owner, and his team and came up with a course of action. They were going to manufacture a 35-section barge, made out of Canadian-sourced steel, with each section weighing less than 2000 lb (907 kg). Each of these sections would be able to be flown in by a helicopter, and together, they would be stable enough to support the drilling team. Then, Warkentin’s team got to work.

After Jordy and his team were done, we hauled the equipment to James Bay, where we assembled the barge a few times, while making minor adjustments to ensure that the team on the ground didn’t have too much trouble putting this all together, which was going to be a difficult task either way.

Inside framework for 35 sections, each to not exceed 2000 lb (907 kg) when complete

Once satisfied, we flew the barge to the site via an Airbus Astar B2 helicopter. It took over a week to reach the drill site, because of the weather. The assembly was much faster, thanks to our preparation. It took two men in wetsuits and a 12-hour workday, as the 35 squares didn’t really float too well. In the end, the men got it done and by the next day, we were welding spud pockets and slinging the drill into position.

There was a big risk involved in this approach, as drilling in very shallow lakes/rivers can be very challenging – boulders and current can be your worst enemy while trying to line up a rig on a 45°-angle. However, this barge approach worked out and we were able to drill off several holes to an average depth of 400 m (1312 ft).

The successful collaboration of the Forage Fusion and Warkentin Fabricating teams’ hard work is shown in action, drilling to a depth of 400m (1312 ft)

About the companies

Forage Fusion Drilling is a company owned and operated by Michael MacTavish. We specialize in heli-portable/skid/limited access drilling. We strive for challenges and as in this project, we achieve them with safety being one of our top priorities.

For all inquiries, please call 613-632-0120 or email

Warkentin Fabricating commenced as marine contractors and organically started building barges that were needed for the company’s own projects. This turned into an entirely new business plan and department of building barges for projects across the world. The company is quickly becoming a household name in the barge industry and intends to continue its aggressive plan for growth in the coming years. The company offers barges of all sizes, with many customizable options and prides itself on building the barge that has best suited Forage Fusion’s needs, which is demonstrated in the 35-piece project with them.

For barge pricing and inquiries: call 519-992-0639 or email