by Lance Hubbard, General Manager at Hubbard Perforaciones
Drilling in the Andes Mountains or South American jungle is challenging due to altitude, terrain, extreme weather and accessibility – or lack thereof, to remote drilling sites.
Before starting a drilling program at a location deemed inaccessible, drilling contractors must consider many factors, and the most crucial are:
1. A lightweight, portable drill rig specifically designed and built to meet the demands of the location’s particular geography.
2. Reliable equipment and proven methods to mobilize across narrow access trails in extreme conditions, and typically without helicopter support.
3. Experienced and competent crew.
1. Drill rig
In September 2013, Hubbard Perforaciones (HP) committed to undertake drilling at SolGold’s tier-one copper deposit in Ecuador. Challenging terrain with deep drill targets meant that a larger, conventional rig couldn’t be utilized. HP started with a Hydracore 2500, however drilling results dictated a mobile rig that could drill deeper. HP requested a larger rig from Hydracore drills. In the fall of 2015, the first HC 5000 drilled its initial holes. The rig is sturdy and reliable to regularly access deep targets, yet lighter in weight than comparable rigs to mobilize to remote drill sites.
A comparable rig, capable of reaching Hydracore 5000’s depth range is the LF™ 160; rated for 1800 m (5935 ft) of N-size, weighing 16 300 kg (35 935.35 lb) with 304 hp. But that’s where the similarities end. HP’s rig is one of the world’s lightest drill rigs, capable of regularly reaching deep targets and weighing one-quarter the weight of the LF™ 160. The Hydracore 5000 can reach 2167 m (7110 ft) in N-size with just over 200 hp, deeming it more efficient and environmentally conscious than the LF™ 160. The chuck is the rig’s heaviest component, weighing 406 kg (895.08 lb) assembled. Its unique, belt-driven design reduces the drill head weight for seamless operation, unlike troublesome gear-driven chucks.
Depth capacity was originally set at 1500 m (4921 ft) in N-size. However, HP’s constant innovation and design improvements resulted in the Hydracore 5000 exceeding original depth capacity beyond initial expectation. This year, HP expect to reach depths with N-size between 2600 m and 3000 m (8530 ft and 9842 ft) – more than double the original estimate. Today HP has 12 Hydracore 5000 rigs in the field.
With 25 years’ experience working in tough terrain and remote sites, no location is deemed too difficult to explore by HP. Their fleet includes man-portable drills, mini excavators and specialty movers to ensure drill rigs and equipment can be transported almost anywhere, quickly and safely.
The Hydracore 5000 resolved SolGold’s mobilization issues. The rig’s modular components allow for disassembly into manageable weights for transportation on narrow trails. Latin America’s strict environmental regulations limit accessibility in some areas to 1.5 meter-wide (5 ft) trails. Such situations call for innovative mobilization solutions, such as small, track-mounted units to transport the drill and provide daily drill support. The trackmounted units have proven effective, especially in deep mud and marshlands. HP is currently developing an hydraulic version of a track-mounted unit to ensure more efficient and safer moves.
When working in Ecuador, HP often hire local talent to assist with trail formation, rig transportation and various drilling activities given their local knowledge and familiarity with the terrain, weather and altitude. HP’s crew expanded to 230 personnel last year, of which almost the entire crew is Ecuadorian as they’re hard working, responsible and habit-free – an ideal profile for the demands of a driller’s daily tasks. Camp conditions can be trying, sometimes requiring crews to walk to work for up to an hour per day through mud, which can pull one’s boots completely off, if one is not careful.
HP is currently focused on completing several R&D projects. After which time, HP intends to move into larger markets. Last Fall, HP set a new depth record of 2623 m (8606 ft) in B-size.
The future for HP and the Hydracore 5000 looks promising as this lightweight, high capacity, environmentally conscious rig outperforms heavier machines in efficiency, depth capacity and reduced carbon footprint through a smaller platform area, narrow access points and less fuel consumption.
For more information visit: www.hubbarddrilling.com