Everything you wanted to know about pad building, but were afraid to ask

October 20, 2022

by Brian Doubt, Owner at Skookum Exploration Services Inc.

In today’s exploration industry, heli-portable drills are becoming more common. Governments and stakeholders are looking for ways to cause less disturbance, as we explore for deposits. Drill pads have become an essential part of the exploration process, not only in mountainous terrain but also in remote areas where less impact is preferred. As a pad builder, I’ve seen the growth firsthand, and I’m happy to witness this trend, not only for obvious self-serving reasons but for their smaller environmental footprint.

A drill pad with space for a driller's shack
A drill pad with space for a driller’s shack.

During my 35 years in mineral exploration, I’ve seen the industry change dramatically because of increased safety, environmental standards, and stakeholder involvement, and I am happy to be a part of such a responsible industry. This brings us back to drill pads. Once you realize you’re going to require them, planning becomes essential for a smooth program. Choosing a pad-building company is as important as choosing a drilling company, a helicopter company, or the project geologist you require for your program. The wrong company may not have the capability to build the pads you need. Safety is paramount in this situation, as well as planning in advance, months in advance.

The further in advance you plan your program, the better it is. Once you’ve chosen your drill contractor and pad builder, getting them to communicate is essential. Pad builders need to know the specifications of the drill, plus how the drillers prefer their pads, and whether they have any special requests. Once they’ve done this, you can get your lumber list from the pad builder and order your wood. Ordering months ahead is always best. If you wait too long, you may end up with lower quality or wet timber, which can weigh twice as much as seasoned dry wood. This makes the wood harder to work with, and less can be transported by helicopters in a sling load, obviously raising expenses. Getting the wood delivered to your site slightly before or simultaneously with the arrival of the pad builders is preferable. They will need to complete a couple of pads before the drillers come. There’s nothing pad builders hate more than causing drillers to wait while they’re finishing off a pad. Depending upon the depth of a hole, the number of holes per pad, and the ease of drilling, you’ll need to figure out how much further ahead the pad builders need to be in order to stay ahead of the drillers.

A series of drill pads on a steep mountain incline
A series of drill pads on a steep mountain incline

Once the drillers arrive, they’ll want to see the pads to ensure that they meet their standards, as well as to be certain that the pads have all the features they need. Depending on the safety protocols of the drilling company and the jurisdiction, the pads will need to be inspected by the drillers, the senior geology staff on site, and the builder, to ensure that everyone’s standards are met. This is usually when the drillers make their special requests if any. If you have a good pad builder, they’ve already anticipated the drillers’ requests, and are very happy to accommodate the drillers’ additions.

Consider how much force is exerted by a drill during its operation on your drill pad. The pressure is immense, meaning that lives and equipment are at stake. Like it or not, it’s dangerous work, therefore, a lot depends upon the integrity of the drill pad. This is an area in your program that can be problem-free with the right pad builders, or a total disaster if you’ve hired the wrong crew. I recommend seeking pad builders with experience and a proven track record. Ensure you are dealing with a company that carries adequate liability insurance, WorkSafe coverage, and the personnel with the needed skills. The more complex or steep your terrain, the more experience you’ll need from your pad builders. There are several good companies out there that offer everything required, however, this is not an area that you can skimp on, especially if you have challenging terrain.

Pad building is a service that can be overlooked if you don’t consider the risks of having a sub-par builder. It usually takes a few seasons for a helper to gain the experience needed to become a skilled pad builder. Some builders have no experience in rocks or talus, while others may have never built a pad on a glacier. Additionally, some might cut corners to finish quickly, while others may use the wrong materials, causing unseen weaknesses that won’t be apparent until the pad fails. These are all risk factors when considering which pad builders to use.

In the end, planning ahead and doing some due diligence in your selection process will ensure a smooth field season. Pad builders should arrive on site with all the tools and supplies they need to complete the work. Adequate PPE and safety standards are also important. Attitude is paramount, as the job of the builders is to help you complete your project in a safe and efficient manner. Listening to their advice may just save you thousands of dollars, so all in all, pad builders are a key partner in the success of a heli-portable drill program.

For more information visit: www.skookumexploration.com

Read Issue 21 here: 

Issue 21 / 2022