Red Rock Drilling: The journey to carbon neutrality

March 4, 2021

by Henry and Johnathan Taitt, Directors at Red Rock Drilling Pty Ltd

Creating a lasting legacy takes courage and commitment but when it comes to negating climate change, the process is not as challenging to execute as you may think. The example of Red Rock Drilling is a case in point when it comes to the mining industry.

Based in the West Australian outback town of Kalgoorlie, Red Rock Drilling is a small operation, focusing on reverse circulation (RC) drilling. Originally formed six years ago, the operation has transitioned since 2017 when Henry Taitt took full ownership and was then joined in partnership by his twin brother, Johnathan, in 2018.

Having grown up on a cropping and grazing farm at Fingal, in Northern Tasmania, they have always had a keen awareness of their surroundings and impact on the environment – farming for the future was somewhat of a mantra.

While their home-town was renowned for coal mining activities dating back to the 1800s, it would be the goldfields of Kalgoorlie where they would venture in their early 20s to seek their fortunes.

With two decades of hard work under their high-vis vests, the 38-year-olds are now forging their future by showing professional leadership to enhance climate change action in the mining industry. They’re leading the way to a carbon-neutral future and if they can do it, they believe it is incumbent on others within the industry to follow suit.

Drilling in the Goldfields region, WA
Drilling in the Goldfields region, WA

Red Rock’s journey to become the first business of its kind in Australia to achieve Carbon Neutral Certification under the Federal Government-backed Climate Active Group, started in 2019. The pair had been discussing how they could best give back to the community that supported their business activities.

While they initially investigated traditional financial donations to different charities and organizations around the Kalgoorlie area, it was decided that achieving Climate Active Group accreditation for Red Rock Drilling would actually do so much more locally and globally in the long-term. And so, for six months, Red Rock embarked on the process to understand its output.

To become carbon neutral, the business had to determine the greenhouse gas emissions generated by its activities, such as fuel, electricity use and travel.

Red Rock has a drill rig working across the country providing services to clients who are predominantly exploring for gold and proving up gold deposits. It may not sound like a significant operation in the scheme of a mining industry that is worth more than AUD 200 billion to the Australian economy, but the twins were actually genuinely shocked by the results they received.

The process of RC drilling consists of an outer drill rod with an inner tube and the hollow inner tubes allow the drill cuttings to be transported back to the surface in a continuous, steady flow using high-pressure air. This process results in the use of between 800-1200 L (211–317 gallons) of diesel a day. It was deemed that this was the biggest factor to pollution and Red Rock’s level of CO2 emissions was around 480 tonnes (960 000 lb) per annum.

On the move, mobilizing from Kalgoorlie to Barwidgee Station east of Wiluna in WA
On the move, mobilizing from Kalgoorlie to Barwidgee Station east of Wiluna in WA

With the assistance of Brisbane-based carbon accounting consultants Conversio, who verified the business’s MYOB data to ensure accuracy and Susan Ridding of Sustainable Business Consultants based out of Adelaide they developed a plan to start reducing and offsetting emissions with investment in new technology.

Any remaining emissions would need to be canceled out by the purchase of carbon offset units, which are generated from activities that prevent, reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

It may sound complex, and the pair admits they were concerned about being buried in jargon and bureaucracy, but they promise the Climate Active Group process was not difficult.

They immediately knew there was room for efficiency improvements on a day-to-day basis in their business and quickly discovered that some of the changes were easy and cost-effective to implement.

Red Rock changed to a biodegradable hammer oil, which lubricates the drill hammer during the drilling process and will start using a new carbon-neutral oil called Castrol Vecton, which is the first certified carbon neutral lubricant range on the market. The business is set to install 20 solar panels which will deliver a 34% reduction in energy bills. Red Rock’s long-term goal is to be completely off grid with the implementation of a solar battery pack initiative in the near future.

Solar water heating will be installed, and office lights have been replaced with LED alternatives.

Personal use vehicles have been changed over to more fuel-efficient options and all Red Rock employees now engage in the simple act of offsetting flights, with all major airlines offering good carbon offset initiatives.

All weather occupation, drilling east of Leinster in WA
All weather occupation, drilling east of Leinster in WA

Red Rock has also improved recycling protocols and made more environmentally conscious choices when buying printing materials.

Perhaps the biggest choice the business made during the process was contributing to the Chakala Wind Power Project in Maharashtra, India, as an offset measure. The Taitts knew their investment in the Indian wind energy project would not only go towards a sustainable energy supply for a country crippled by population and pollution challenges but also provide a number of jobs to the poverty-stricken region.

Red Rock is paying to offset 530 tonnes (1 060 000 lb) at around AUD 4 per tonne, with an expectation this cost will increase into the future as the price of offsets rises.

When you combine the impact of the above outlined local and international strategies, it was enough for Red Rock to officially gain Carbon Neutral Certification on June 5, 2020.

The reaction has been significant, with Red Rock since receiving a number of inquiries from other mining businesses keen to learn about the process and follow suit.

Red Rock’s promoting the fact that its trailblazing initiative will eventually help its bottom line, not only with cost savings via smarter technology and energy efficiencies, but by an increased number of clients who want to engage with carbon neutral suppliers.

The pair believes it makes sense for businesses to surround themselves with those at the forefront of innovation and carbon neutrality falls into that category.

Especially when it comes to the mining industry. Not only is it a feelgood gesture, it’s also a means of

obtaining more positive attention via social and traditional media outlets.

Henry and Johnathan are now actively imploring other bigger businesses to flex their financial muscle and do what is right for the environment and future generations.

They believe it is imperative to improve the reputation of the mining industry.

The repercussions if mining businesses don’t take collective small steps to affect climate change are scary.

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