“To be successful in a country like the DRC drilling contractors need to be versatile, flexible and able to offer complete services”
“In the Copperbelt Sonic Drilling is appropriate as for both the Zambian and the DRC sides of the belt, the top 80 m. ground layer is badly fractured, with caves and mudflows, making any technique for drilling complicated.”
Boart Longyear provides drilling solutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. What services do you offer your clients in the DRC?
GB: In the DRC, Boart Longyear delivers services for both underground and surface drilling, with equipment and technologies such as diamond core, reverse circulation and sonic drilling. We have a support base in Lubumbashi, Katanga, where our warehousing facility is located and where spare parts, finances and logistics are administered. Since 2014 we have also maintained sizeable workshops on site, enough to rebuild our own rigs. Prior to 2014 we had to send the rigs back to our office in Zambia.
In the DRC, the Kibali mine and Tenke Fungurume mine are Boart Longyear’s flagship projects. What have been some of the most recent developments at these sites?
GB: Boart Longyear flagship projects are the Kibali gold mine in northeastern DRC (operated as a joint venture between Randgold Resources, AngloGold Ashanti, and the Congolese parastatal, Sokimo) and Tenke Fungurume mine (“TFM”) in Katanga, (a partnership led by Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold, the Lundin Mining Corporation and the government, through Gecamines). The Kibali minewill develop into one of the largest gold mines in Africa once in full production, producing an average of 600,000 oz/y of gold over the first 12 years of operation and Boart Longyear is proud to be operating there. In 2013, we added large diamond dewatering, geotechnical and hydrogeological holes, for piezometers, to our previous diamond coring techniques. And today we have also drilled large diameter holes using two Schramm T130’2, as well as – a world first – drilling 14 inch holes with the Sonic Drilling technique (at TFM). Boart Longyear has been drilling at TFM since 2005. We started with one coring rig and are now running between five and eight rigs, five coring and the other three engaged in higher value operations.
What are some of the advantages of Sonic drilling? Is this technique suited to a region like the Copperbelt?
GB: In the Copperbelt Sonic Drilling is appropriate as for both the Zambian and the DRC sides of the belt, the top 80 m. ground layer is badly fractured, with caves and mudflows, making any technique for drilling complicated. Boart Longyear’s Sonic rig was brought to the DRC in 2013 after we picked up problems with the reverse circulation technique, particularly in the upper layers. It proved successful and at TFM we are now drilling 14 inches down to 150 m. We are proud to have taken the opportunity to bring our Sonic rig to Katanga at the right time.
KR: Sonic drilling provides a continuous, relatively undisturbed core sample of unparalleled quality and accuracy through any type of formation. With less than 1% drilling deviation, drillers know exactly where a sample is coming from. Sonic also reduces friction (from the formation) on the drill string. The wonderful thing about this technique, as opposed to reverse circulation and directional drilling, is the near complete recovery.
Could you elaborate on what drilling contractors need to do to be successful in a country like DRC?
GB: To be successful in a country like the DRC drilling contractors need to be versatile, flexible and able to offer complete services. The contractor must also be aware of the life of a mine and what the requirements are for mine drilling during these processes. There is the pure exploration up front, which is probably reverse circulation drilling (‘RC’); however geologists sometimes prefer other drilling techniques, such as diamond core drilling. Remaining competitive and being able to get the business through the life cycle of the mine is also important. As the mine develops, mine dewatering techniques are an essential part of resource extraction as it lowers the water table around the mine. So to be successful, there has to be adherence to the lifecycle of mining, which is what Boart Longyear does at TFM, Frontier Mine and Kibali. It is this approach that partly explains the reason of our success.
What other markets in the Sub Saharan region are you currently serving?
GB: Boart Longyear is working in South Africa on two long-term projects where we are drilling the C-grade stockpile at Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine, using sonic drilling. We are now in the process of optimising the production technique by toughening the rigs because of the hostile drilling environment. Boart Longyear also operates at Richards Bay Minerals in deep beach sands. Here Sonic drilling provided representative samples through Calcretes and the high water table, that clearly indicated that RC had underestimated the grade. We are also drilling in Madagascar with smaller occasional projects. Zambia has been quiet in 2014, with only a fraction of the rigs currently in use. A few single rig projects have been undertaken, and the Frontier de-watering operation is run from Ndola.
What are your expectations for your operations in the DRC in the mid term?
GB: Boart Longyear is very optimistic about the DRC. However, this is not as lucrative a market as people tend to believe. Even though there are important mining projects, there are also hidden costs, with auditing and corporate governance requirements adding to our overheads. To be successful it takes experience and time in country. We are improving and feel confident in the future of this market.
Boart Longyear – In Numbers
Year entered DRC: 2006
Employees (DRC): 40
Rigs deployed at Kibali gold mine: 8
Rigs deployed at Tenke Fungurme mine: 8
Rigs deployed at Frontier Mine: 1
Spare rigs: 5
Contact: Gordon Barkhuisen, Territory Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa