In Focus: Capital Drilling – Africa’s largest diversified driller

June 7, 2021

by Brian Rudd, Executive Director at Capital Drilling Ltd

Exploration and mining companies need skilled drilling contractors who operate professionally and deliver quality sample results, as it is these samples that ultimately guide key decisions, often with significant financial implications.

Since its inception in Tanzania in 2005, Capital Drilling (Capital) has built a reputation for delivering professional and safe drilling services and high-quality results. Consequently, their evolution from an exploration driller to one providing a complete range of drilling services was driven by their customers.

Diamond drill rig in Tanzania
Diamond drill rig in Tanzania

Capital’s proven high standards in executing their drilling contracts saw customers requesting production drilling services in addition to their initial exploration drilling services. This led to the introduction of blast hole, grade control, dewatering, pre-splits and underground drilling services to form a full-service drilling offer.

While most drilling companies can drill holes, Capital believes that contractors should deliver customers a good quality core or AC/RC sample, as ultimately that is what the client is buying. This is what they train their crews to deliver, while drilling meters is important, delivering quality samples for customers is the priority.

Capital has developed relationships with some of the largest mining companies in the world, including the likes of AngloGold Ashanti, Barrick Gold and Centamin. As a result of their high-quality service delivery, they have now provided drilling services to Centamin’s Sukari Gold Mine in Egypt since 2005 and AngloGold Ashanti’s Geita Gold Mine since 2006.

The company’s evolution in recent years has continued, and Capital has grown its service offering further diversifying into complementary ancillary services. It now provides geochemical analysis services via its laboratory business, MSALABS, mine-site maintenance services via its fledgling maintenance business, MSM, and most recently, load and haul services via its Capital Mining division.

Capital’s well-established drilling operations now benefit from the ability to offer their clients an extended, fully integrated mining services solution. Their clients profit from a partner with extensive working knowledge across their project, translating to operational and management efficiencies.

Underground drilling
Underground drilling

Focus on Africa

Capital focus on the African markets. While they have experience drilling around the world in South America, Asia-Pacific and Europe, since 2017 they have concentrated on the African continent where the company initially commenced operations. Capital’s traditional markets are in East and North Africa, with well-established operations in Tanzania and Egypt in particular. From early 2018, they have undergone a strategic expansion into the high-growth West African region.

The West African expansion is driven by the much higher activity levels in the area than their traditional operational countries. Additionally, projects in West Africa enjoy significant equity market support, with S&P Global Market Intelligence figures indicating USD 4.9 billion has been raised for projects in the region since 2009, while it featured as the third top region for 2020 gold exploration budgets. Much of this investment focuses on gold exploration across the Birimian Greenstone Belt – a world-class formation in West Africa.

Nearly half of Capital’s drill fleet has now been relocated to this region across Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania. Additionally, major operational and support hubs have been established in Bamako, Mali and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. This enables the company to provide a high level of service to clients in the region, and with inventory stores at each location, operations keep running smoothly. This investment is paying off, with the company’s rig utilization nearing 70% in the first quarter of 2021 and a growing portfolio of new clients and contracts.

With Capital’s shift into West Africa, its revenue generation is now split almost evenly between its three major operating areas, with the balance from the rest of the world and other operations, including its subsidiaries MSALABS and MSM.

Capital Drilling’s regional operations split
Capital Drilling’s regional operations split

Formula for success

Capital Drilling was established with the philosophy of providing first-world quality service levels to the emerging markets, through their equipment, safety standards and providing training and career opportunities for their staff, particularly national employees.

This commitment has set the company apart from many of its competitors by ensuring its services are delivered by a safe and reliable fleet, by a competent, well-trained workforce and importantly, by crews with an uncompromising focus on operating safely.

A key part of this approach has also been working closely with clients to ensure projects are well executed and to consistently and proactively look for opportunities to initiate improvements. This pragmatic approach, one that focuses on finding solutions, whether they are operational, safety or other, and delivering more than just drilling meters for their customers, has been instrumental in the company’s success since its inception and remains a core part of its culture today.

Capital’s crews take a broader view of the drill program – it is not just about getting the meters, it’s the quality of the core, it’s looking at other issues a client may be facing around their drill programs and coming up with solutions that work. This might mean drilling the program with fewer rigs, reducing costs or introducing equipment to recycle drilling fluids to save water and reduce environmental impact. Every project has its own unique challenges, and the Capital team will proactively look at how they can add value, how they can make it better and safer.

Given that the company operates across multiple countries and cultures, it takes time to understand the local people and adapt its operations accordingly, another key factor to success. An example of this is changing shifts during Ramadan to night shifts to accommodate those who are fasting. As a result, Capital enjoys a long-term, stable workforce at its major projects, benefitting clients by maintaining consistently professional service delivery.

Exploration drilling in Mali
Exploration drilling in Mali

Providing career opportunities

The key to ensuring Capital can deliver quality services to their clients is the capability of their team. The company invests significantly in training and professional development programs to provide their employees with the skills and competency levels required. This involves both practical, site-based training together with theoretical assessments.

The company’s portfolio of long-term contracts provides the opportunity to develop ongoing career opportunities for its national employees. Capital emphasizes the development of its national teams and builds training schools at long-term contract sites to upskill workers in order to replace the expat roles. In Egypt for example, with all the training and hard work that has gone into their operations at the Sukari Gold Mine since 2005, Capital now has 95% Egyptian crews for drilling operations, and that is out of 301 people with 14 drill rigs and a world-class maintenance workshop.

As a result of the training and opportunities provided by the company, many of its national employees are now working in expatriate roles at its operations across the continent and hold experience and qualifications that enables them to work around the world.

Corporate responsibilities

Capital recognizes the impact its operations can have on the local communities, which is far broader than providing careers for local people. The company actively engages with these communities to build sustainable value in the region, by providing a range of support to local residents, sporting organizations and charities.

Capital client, Tim Livesay from Oriole Resources says, ‘In my experience of using the Capital teams over the last 20 years or so I can honestly say they have some of the best and most positively impactful social programs for their staff and the communities in which they operate.’

Blast hole drilling in Tanzania
Blast hole drilling in Tanzania

Safety above all

The company has a proud history of achieving outstanding safety records, which demonstrates the strength of its safety culture. Its 2020 Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate (TRIFR) was just 0.77, substantially below its peers, while many of its key operational sites achieved multi-year Loss Time Injury-free milestones.

The company’s uncompromising commitment to the occupational health and safety of its employees and others means it expects visible safety leadership from all levels of the business. Senior management and the Executive team will regularly conduct Safety Risk Leadership Walks at operational sites to work directly with employees. They clearly communicate and identify potential hazards and provide support to eradicate behaviors or conditions that have the potential to cause harm. This also ensures management have a clear understanding of the risks faced by employees.

Capital also understands the importance its clients place on safe operations – free of incidents, hazards and near misses. The company strives to diligently exceed the most stringent safety requirements, and deliver safe, productive drilling solutions that contribute positively to the project’s safety performance.

In addition, significant focus is placed on monitoring and continuous improvement of its safety processes to address leading indicators, trends, behaviors and conditions influencing Class 1 Risks. Capital works continuously with its employees to ensure they understand the controls to mitigate any risk and are empowered to act if they identify an unsafe condition or behavior in their workplace.

Extensive, reliable rig fleet and capabilities

Capital has the largest rig fleet in Africa, with 98 rigs as of the end of March 2021 and a robust rig acquisition plan for the remainder of the year. Its fleet is one of the most reliable with a proactive asset management program that also includes regular rig upgrades and complete rebuilds. The fleet maintains rig availabilities above 85% as a result, ensuring clients programs aren’t interrupted by unplanned rig downtimes.

Capital’s rig fleet includes: diamond core, air core, deep hole, multi-purpose, grade control, RC, blast hole, and underground rigs. This broad fleet capacity ensures the company can provide the complete range of drilling services from greenfield exploration through to production.

Capital’s crews are trained to understand what clients need at the different stages of a project. Our exploration crews mobilize quickly and consistently deliver what exploration projects need – accurate drilling, quality samples and drilling programs executed on time.

The company’s crews operating on mine sites have the technical skills and competence needed and understand their contribution to keeping the mine plan on schedule. Blast hole crews are trained to deliver the optimal distribution of blast energy to improve down-stream productivity, while the grade control teams focus on accuracy and recovery, getting the holes in the right place every time to provide accurate data on the ore body.

Capital drilling rig
Capital designed and constructed dual air core/diamond drilling rig

Technology driven safety, productivity and data collection

New technologies are now a vital part of the drilling industry to drive improved safety, productivity and data collection. Capital incorporates the latest industry-leading technologies into its drilling operations, ensuring clients receive the safest, most efficient service.

Drill rigs incorporate safety features that ensure employees are kept away from sources of energy and moving parts where possible, including hands-free rod handlers and remote Drill Control Modules for blast hole rigs. Rigs are also fitted with cameras that provide a real-time view of the site for safety and security monitoring.

The latest data collection software is also used on Capital’s drill sites. From the latest gyro technologies to cloud-based data platforms transmitting daily plod information, the company ensures it can provide the most accurate data, direct from site daily.

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