In Focus: Major Drilling – Global leader in specialized drilling

March 1, 2021

by Kevin Slemko, Corporate Business Development Manager, Major Drilling Group International Incorporated

Right now, the mining industry is facing a problem. Declining exploration activity, and supply deficits expected within five years, have driven record pricing for commodities—especially gold and copper. Unfortunately, new deposits are harder to reach and are in greater demand than ever before. How can the industry overcome this problem?

Specialized drilling is the key. Using drills as ‘truth machines,’ Major Drilling unearths exploration potential for clients around the globe. The company is registered in over 20 countries on five continents. New and ongoing partnerships with senior and emerging exploration and mining companies keep drills turning.

Major Drilling is ready. With a fleet of more than 600 drills, many with automated features, and a workforce of over 3000, the company is well-positioned to meet the demands of the next global mining upcycle.

Major Drilling maintains a diverse fleet of underground drills at locations around the world including this underground cab-operated, percussive longhole drill

What is specialized drilling?

While Major Drilling didn’t invent specialized drilling, the company’s focus on this specific area for more than 40 years truly sets it apart as the world-renowned specialized drilling leader.

Specialized drilling means Major Drilling is highly experienced at drilling with distinct equipment and techniques in difficult to access areas. Services, including deep hole, directional and heli-supported drilling for projects that go deep underground, are situated in remote locations or reach high altitudes. Each drilling project adheres to top safety standards, with some requiring even more complex safety measures— an area where Major Drilling excels.

‘We deliver on the toughest sites by leveraging our knowledge, extensive experience, focus on safety and commitment to meeting the local needs of every customer,’ said Denis Larocque, Major Drilling President and CEO. ‘With the best people on the ground and a modern, diversified drilling fleet, we partner with our customers and local communities for outstanding results.’

Canadian roots, universal values

Major Drilling sprouted in 1980 around the Brunswick Mine in Bathurst, New Brunswick, then rapidly grew across Canada, achieving international reach by the early 1990s. Success came by following a winning formula: acquire quality equipment, retain top talent and effectively respond to market cycles to maintain a strong balance sheet. In 1995, the company began public trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange as ticker symbol MDI.

Today, Major Drilling’s senior management team is a robust amalgamation of former drillers, operations managers, financial experts and innovative corporate leaders. Together, the top 40 members of this management team have over 1000 years of combined experience in the drilling business. Universal values of quality, safety and results guide every project.

Significant acquisitions in the past decade include Norex Drilling in 2019, Taurus Drilling in 2014 and Bradley Group in 2011. Through Norex, Major Drilling expanded both surface and underground drilling operations in the profilic region of Northeastern Ontario, Canada. With Taurus, underground percussive drilling became a new focus in Canada and the United States. Bradley Group assets expanded Major Drilling’s geographic footprint in Northern Quebec, Northern Ontario, the Philippines, Mexico and Suriname.

Major Drilling blast hole drilling crews line up for this team photo with their D65 drill and blast rigs

Answering the global call for specialized drilling

Specialized drilling is in demand. Expansion into Suriname continues to yield results for a senior mining partner enlarging surface gold mine operations through blast hole drilling with a recently purchased D65. Major Drilling works on a variety of exploration, infill and blast hole drilling projects at the site. More than 80 team members drill blast holes and perform other specialized drilling including horizontal drilling, dewatering wells and various small geotechnical programs.

The strategic purchase of equipment is a tactic Major Drilling can employ because it is cash positive and effectively positioned for a surge in mining activity.

In Indonesia, an esteemed client continues to call on Major Drilling’s specialized drilling expertise in the earthquake-prone ‘Ring of Fire,’ the Pacific zone where tectonic plates collide. For more than 20 years, drilling services at the mammoth gold mine require innovations including recent hydrofracking and block cave monitoring—the process of inducing fractures to assist with ore movement, reducing the intensity of seismic activity and monitoring controlled cave-ins.

Drilling teams meet the challenges of this large-scale, challenging drilling environment by working productively and safely alongside the client. Records in 2020 totaled over three million lost time injury-free hours at four different project sites.

When a client in Mongolia needed to expand its massive copper project, it turned to Major Drilling. The drilling teams completed a 2000 m (6561.68 ft) PQ3 diameter hole—an extremely deep hole for P-size—which required both experience and expertise. They met the challenge to reach the record-setting depth and the requirement to approach at a 65-degree dip.

For 104 days, the project yielded an average 10 m (32 ft) per shift while intersecting eight faults. The hole is an incredible achievement for Major Drilling. What’s more, the client can now pursue additional deep hole drilling and expansion at the project.

The Major Drilling team stands with its UDR5000 drill used in Mongolia at one of the world’s largest copper-gold mines. They celebrate the extremely deep 2000-meter PQ3 drilling record completed on October 22, 2020.

In 2020, Major Drilling broke records not only in Asia, but also in Canada, where deep diamond drilling brought about a new record at a world-class gold deposit in Quebec.

The drillers knew it would be a historic achievement from the beginning, so they assembled an experienced team from within the Major Drilling ranks. That experience paid off when the team, confronting challenging geology, used 11 wedges to meet the target.

Fortunately, the drillers understood these obstacles. Their knowledge and the power of the EF-100 drill ultimately prevailed. They made it to the historic 3467 m (11 374.67 ft) length N-size and broke Major Drilling’s standing Canadian diamond drill record on January 26, 2020.

‘Discovery One is a great success and achievement,’ Osisko Mining President and Chief Executive Officer, John Burzynski, said. ‘We are very proud of our Osisko team and Major Drilling for their tremendous work completing this hole.’

The Major Drilling Canada team celebrates its 3467-meter-deep diamond drilling record on January 26, 2020

Diversifying for strong revenues

Major Drilling places value in its people. The company employs the expertise of crew, staff and management already established in the business and provides them with the best equipment. This results in a company that adapts to changes, has personnel who persevere through downcycles and upcycles, and has a great measure of reassuring continuity for partners.

‘Our partners benefit from the extensive drilling knowledge of our drillers and senior managers, the majority of whom have hands-on field experience and understand specialized drilling from every angle,’ Mr Larocque said. ‘We outperform our competitors through this expertise.’

The fleet is modern, with innovative additions like rod handling capability and recent refurbishments. Customers appreciate the responsiveness and flexibility to relocate equipment for mining and drilling operations around the world.

Revenues in fiscal 2020 were CAD 409 million. With a leadership team willing to adapt and adjust to market conditions, revenue across the past four years shows continued growth, despite COVID-19 setbacks.

Major Drilling effectively weathered initial and ongoing impacts of the pandemic by reacting quickly and effectively to protect employees from, and to slow down, the spread of the virus.

Fortunately, Major Drilling was well-positioned financially to endure setbacks and stay on track with clients as they restarted projects with new health and safety measures in place. Safety is a prevailing hallmark of the company’s value system.

Living a culture of safety

So, what does safety look like at Major Drilling? After clocking in, grabbing a safety booklet or logging into a safety program, team members begin each shift with safety at the forefront.

The center of onsite safety programs is the TAKE 5 risk assessment. Critical risks are managed through a set list of critical controls. When employees encounter a critical risk during their shift, they must stop and complete the corresponding critical control checklist. Each team member knows and regularly reviews the 10 Lifesaving Rules to ensure personal and team safety is top of mind.

Major Drilling invests in continued training and programs because clients depend on this first-rate approach to safety. Each project’s safety records include tallies of lost time injury-free hours from contractors, and Major Drilling is proud to have millions of injury-free hours logged with customers.

Human Resources and Safety Vice President, Ben Graham, heads Major Drilling’s safety programs. He works to excel world-class safety programs that adapt and improve as the mining industry evolves.

‘Safety is a core value in our operations,’ he said. ‘Knowing how to avoid risk means our expertly trained teams are ready to do each job well and safely.’

It’s also gratifying to be recognized by the industry. In 2020, Major Drilling received the Safe Day Everyday Gold Award for the third year in a row from the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) and the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). The company also marked lost time injury-free milestones at projects in Indonesia and Brazil.

Major Drilling innovations include client-oriented data portals

Non-stop innovation

When it comes to innovation, more really is more. Major Drilling is adding more analytics, more automation and more safety innovations than ever before.

That’s why, since 2015, the company has dedicated an innovation team to developing products that are changing the way data productivity and safety work. These include:

  • The Trailblazer Analytics system, computerized analytics dashboard system. It can be retrofitted to surface and underground coring drills to capture drilling parameters.
  • A client-oriented web portal intended to provide clients with daily project visibility, information and progression.
  • A new hands-free horizontal stacking rod handler, the Major Drilling SafeGrip. This innovation is the next generation manipulator for surface coring rigs.
  • Five new drills for Canada and US projects showing commitment to ‘smart’ systems that provide more automation for worker safety and mobility for clients. This results in less downtime and more value over the life of a project.

With these innovations, Major Drilling is moving into the future as the innovation team continues to build platforms that bring value and transparency to clients and support crews.

The Major Drilling Chile warehouse and maintenance shop in La Serena is one of four South American branches

The future

Being extremely well positioned for the expected multi-year drilling upcycle didn’t happen by chance. Neither is it by chance that Major Drilling is the contractor of choice for a customer base led 80% by senior mining companies.

‘Our clients at all echelons in the industry come to us for our strengths—namely our experience, strong balance sheet, diversified revenue sources, innovation and equipment purchases,’ Mr Larocque said.

With these drivers, Major Drilling is confidently forging ahead into its fifth decade of operations.

The company will always invest in its greatest asset—its workforce. Continued investment in people includes the development of local drillers. After spending years in the company, many of them grow to become managers.

Responsible, forward-looking management also comes through the development of a robust environmental, social and governance policy and accompanying initiatives. No longer seen as simply a risk management issue, Major Drilling is enhancing environmental, social and governance (ESG) value and sustainability as it operates globally in areas such as diversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and community partnership.

For instance, partnerships with nearly a dozen First Nations and Inuit communities provide meaningful opportunities for indigenous communities in their traditional territories in Canada. This is possible through community involvement, employment and support for local suppliers. It is a mindset that starts at the top with Mr Larocque.

‘It’s a duty for all of us in the industry to be more aware of environmental, social and governance issues and be responsible corporate citizens,’ he said.

One of Major Drilling’s female supervisors currently working at an underground Brazilian project

Meeting tomorrow’s demands today

As the mining industry meets the demands of the coming decade and potential exploration upcycle, Major Drilling remains its reliable drilling partner. Commodities will be discovered in ways that only specialized drilling services can supply. With its experience, strong cash position and preparations for the next drilling upturn, Major Drilling has solutions. It will continue to strategically approach the industry’s needs with the right equipment and innovations for data, mobility and safety.

For today’s operations and tomorrow’s drilling demands, Major Drilling stands ready and is proud to continue to be the world leader in specialized drilling.

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