Global Drilling and Exploration Group: Grounded in South-East Asia, but ready to take on the world 

November 17, 2020

by  John Horne, Founder and Co-Owner of Global Drilling & Exploration Group Pte Ltd

Established in 1993 in Indonesia, the re-badged Global Drilling and Exploration Group (GDE) has now spread its footprint throughout South-East Asia and into Australasia and Africa. While not in the realm of the largest drilling companies yet, the privately-owned GDE Group has established itself as a diversified drilling group of choice for many resource companies of all levels, including major mining houses.

GDE was founded by current Chairman John Horne in Indonesia in 1993. The original entity was known as PT Antero Drilling, before being rebranded to PT Indodrill Indonesia (PTII). From those early years, PTII quickly gained a reputation in Indonesia for reliable surface drilling under difficult conditions, including geothermal drilling.

GDE diversified operations into other South-East Asian countries between 2004 – 2016, including Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Singapore (respectively), winning major contracts in those countries, including a 100 000 m (328 084 ft) underground drilling program in 2011 at Goldfield’s Lepanto mine, Philippines, drilling holes up to 2000 m (6561.7 ft) deep.

In 2011, GDE relocated its Head Office from Indonesia to Singapore, reflecting this diversification, and in 2014 set up a UK subsidiary as part of drilling in France in 2015.

In addition to coring and geothermal drilling, GDE commenced grade control and exploration reverse circulation drilling in 2002 in Indonesia, being the RC driller of choice at the significant Martabe mine in Sumatra, Indonesia from 2013 to the present day and the Didipio mine in the Philippines from 2014 until the closure of the open pits in 2017. GDE’s commitment to meeting Martabe’s drilling requirements has involved significant capital investment, including the purchase of a Schramm T685 RC rig, which is rare in Indonesia, to overcome the technically demanding drilling conditions, which include high water flows and fractured silicified ground conditions. The Schramm now regularly drills dry holes beyond 300 m (984.3 ft).

Underground drilling, Indonesia

During the first two decades of GDE’s operations, the mainstay of drilling was man- and heli-portable surface drilling, often drilling in remote jungle locations, throughout the South-East Asian countries.

In 2011, Indexss (International Drilling Exploration Supply and Services) was established to manufacture drill rods and downhole equipment to supply GDE with high-quality drilling equipment on a preferred availability basis.

During 2016 and 2017, GDE entered a second wave of geographical expansion. Drilling operations expanded into Australia (underground drilling), Papua New Guinea (RC and surface diamond drilling) and Zambia (surface diamond drilling). An office was set up in Dubai to handle Africa and the Middle East. To reflect the international diversification of GDE, it was during this time that, the still Indodrill Group, was re-badged as Global Drilling and Exploration Group.

Night shift RC drilling, Indonesia

GDE now has offices in eight countries, and a fleet of approximately 80 drill rigs. Today, GDE offers most forms of drilling to the mineral resource, geothermal and industrial (geotechnical) industries, including surface diamond drilling with man-portable, heli-portable, and trackand truck-mounted rigs, underground diamond drilling and exploration and grade control RC drilling. GDE also offers geotechnical and geothermal drilling.

Like most international drilling companies, GDE has been impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic leading to most of its operations being suspended for several months. However, these same operations are now either back to normal drilling activities, restarting now, or have plans to restart in the next month or so.

At the same time, GDE has won a significant underground contract at Merdeka Copper Gold’s Tujuh Bukit Copper Project in Indonesia and has seen a resurgence of activity in the Philippines with active surface diamond and RC drilling at two new projects.

Indonesia – upwards and underground

The Indonesian operations, through its subsidiary PTII, have been the most productive of the Group over the last few years and PTII has established itself as the premier diversified drilling company in Indonesia. PTII is currently the preferred driller at the Martabe and Tujuh Bukit gold operations and the Hu’u, Awak Mas and Sihayo development sites.

At Tujuh Bukit, PTII has been the incumbent surface drilling company since 2017, drilling a range of resource, hydrological and geotechnical holes with both surface diamond and RC rigs. PTII has drilled the Tujuh Bukit Copper deposit to greater depths than any previous contractor and has completed deep diamond parent holes with wedged and Navi-directed daughter holes through the deposit for the first time there. PTII is now mobilizing five Sandvik DE150 underground rigs to the site; of which four have already commenced work. The DE150 underground rig is unique in Indonesia as it is capable of drilling to 2000 m (6561.7 ft) N-size (as it demonstrated at Lepanto) and can also drill P-size core, which is aided by the use of a proprietary-built automatic rod handler that will load P-size downhole equipment. These two attributes are essential to drilling holes to the required depths at Tujuh Bukit. This has been a trying implementation under the current restrictions of moving people and delays in procuring equipment, but GDE has pushed ahead in spite of the obstacles and the results are starting to show.

PTII is also the incumbent surface driller at the very significant Hu’u porphyry copper-gold deposit of PT Sumbawa Timur Mining (Vale) on Sumbawa Island. This is where GDE’s historical roots in man- and heli-portable drilling are best displayed, as PTII has seven heli-portable rigs on the site that are each capable of drilling to 1800 m (5905.5 ft).

In fact, GDE’s flagship deep-hole rig is the heli-portable ID2000H, an in-house designed and built diamond rig that breaks down to multiple parts no heavier than 700 kg (1540 lb), suitable for transport by a moderate-capacity helicopter. This rig has recently drilled to 2043 m (6702.8 ft) at Hu’u, a record depth for Indonesian heliportable drilling. It may well be close to a world record for a truly heli-portable rig.

This drilling is being conducted under ‘geothermal conditions’ with blowout preventers (BOPs) being utilized on about 30% of the holes.

A typical GDE remote heli-portable drill rig set up

African ventures

In 2017, GDE expanded into Africa and the Middle East, establishing offices in the UAE and Zambia.

In 2019, GDE through its Zambian subsidiary (International Drilling Zambia) began a program of geothermal exploration drilling in the Kafue Trough region of Zambia. The project is of national importance to the Zambian power system and the first drilling operation of its kind in that country. The program has just re-commenced after the COVID-19 restrictions were eased there.

Australia and Papua New Guinea

In 2017, GDE purchased an established PNG drilling operation. At the same time, it won a contract to provide grade control and horizontal RC drilling and diamond drilling services at the Hidden Valley mine there. It has also been undertaking diamond drilling at the Misima Gold development project for several years.

Also in 2017, GDE first entered Australia, winning an underground drilling contract at the EMR Golden Grove base metal mine in Western Australia. The Sandvik DE150 rigs again proved their worth, drilling over 100 000 m (328 084 ft) to depths of 1400 m (4593.2 ft), completing a number of wedged holes in, at times, challenging conditions.

Thinking big, but acting small

Underground drilling, Indonesia

GDE’s success has been built on a few key criteria to achieve its current status and to allow it to grow going forward.

Many of the GDE staff in the Asian operations have been with the company for many years and there is a very strong loyalty culture that has built up over that time. Mining is a cyclical business and companies like GDE have been through the very tough parts of the cycle. During the downtimes, support for their staff has built up a sense of loyalty and commitment. The enthusiastic, energized team of GDE is the key to development and diversity in any operation. The company believes that professionals need support and opportunities for development to get the best out of them.

GDE is further supported by a small group of international drilling experts that cover all aspects of drilling and other associated disciplines, learned over significant time and experience within the industry.

GDE is set apart from other companies because they support their workforce, understand the needs of their clients and work with them to achieve their goals.

The company also supports local communities and cultures where they can. Combined with their technical attributes, GDE gets the job done, no matter how difficult the drilling, the terrain or other conditions may be. No matter the size of the job, each project is tackled with the same desire to achieve the needs of the client. It is no coincidence that GDE has often been brought into projects to achieve what those before could not.

GDE’s fleet comprises of drill rigs that are designed, developed and built to meet the specific challenges of the areas they drill, both in portability and robustness of the machine, as well as commercially purchased rigs from the likes of Sandvik, Schramm and Cortech.

A prime example of this philosophy is the development of the ID2000H heli-portable rig and its success at the Hu’u and other projects. Building on that success, the company is currently planning a version of this rig targeting a 3000 m (9842.5 ft) depth capacity that would be suitable for both the resource and geothermal space.

The future and beyond

Having come from humble beginnings in Indonesia, GDE has gone on to expand and reach out into international arenas. Currently, there is a significant presence in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Zambia to support the original mainstays of Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as continuing to evaluate new opportunities further afield on a global basis.

Schramm T685 rig in Indonesia

In the future, GDE is looking to expand its underground operations and is pursuing opportunities in the geothermal space, particularly within Indonesia, which has the highest stated geothermal resources in the world. GDE is quite prepared to build suitable rigs to tackle this geothermal opportunity, as well as further develop the niche market of deep heli-portable capacity rigs.

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