"Through building long-term relationships with major clients they see the value in paying for safety and quality, which is what Geotec offers."
Can you introduce Geotec and describe the company's range of drilling services in Chile?
Geotec Boyles is a drilling company with approximately 30% share of the Chilean market. It is part of the Boytec Group, which also operates in Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. We work with a fleet of around 120 drills, providing services for diamond core, reverse circulation, horizontal drain holes, water wells for production and dewatering, as well as water well field management.
We have seen significant demand for diamond drilling from BHP, Collahuasi, Anglo American, Antofagasta Minerals, Codelco, Peñoles, Barrick, Anglo American and other operators.
Many companies have spoken about the shortage of qualified drilling professionals to meet demand. How are you dealing with this challenge?
Shortages of workforce is a global problem affecting most industries and not foreign to us. It has been a challenge to train professional drillers and helpers, considering that it not something that you can study in high school or college. Some technical degrees help to form prospects into drillers. However, these are careers that are really formed in the field. To tackle this challenge, we have implemented a drilling platform training center, where we train field personnel, simulating day and night shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week just like in the field. It is not a quick process because of the high safety standards required by our industry. Geotec does not place field people on jobs unless they are completely certified to operate the equipment and demonstrate total compliance with procedures and policies. We have been lucky to have our clients understand the lack of qualified personnel availability, therefore with adequate training all contracts are currently being executed successfully.
How are innovations such as increased mechanization improving safety in the drilling process?
Geotec is one of the main innovators when it comes to drilling technology and equipment. We introduced and improved rod handlers to be completely automatic, eliminating contact between man, drill and tools by 100%. This has prevented hand injuries, which used to be a real issue for companies in the drilling business. We also developed drilling fluids treatment plants to clean and reuse mud with systems like centri-cleaners and centrifuges, to separate solids from water, thus saving water usage. Another important innovation that I would like to highlight is the pressurized drilling cabin to protect our personnel from the weather, noise, dust and other elements. Therefore, they can operate in a more comfortable, safer environment and be more productive.
What are some of the standout mining projects Geotec has worked on in Chile?
BHP has a vast drilling program that considers diamond drilling, reverse circulation, water wells and drain holes, for its Escondida mine. Our drilling contract at Escondida has been extended until 2027. Another very important long -term drilling contract for us is at the Collahuasi mine, includes diamond and RC drilling and water wells. We are also involved in a large project at Codelco Radomiro Tomic mine, where we currently have 15 diamond drills working. Finally, Antofagasta Minerals have been client for almost five years and we have formed a very strong relationship. This is the business model that we favor.
Considering high metals prices in the last two years, would you say clients are now more concerned about quality instead of cost?
The issue with prices is relative, because although the copper price is high, costs for companies have also risen significantly. In Chile like in many parts of the world, we are expecting that inflation in 2022 will be above 10%. Clients are understanding because they face the same problem. Inflation affects salaries, fuel, equipment, drilling tools, just about everything on a drilling operation. Another negative cost impact is the costs of freight, domestic and international sea freight prices. Five years ago, a container from the US to Chile was US$5,000, but now it can cost as much as US$15,000. In such a context, price is still an important factor. However, through building long-term relationships with major clients they see the value in paying for safety and quality, which is what Geotec offers.
Which areas of the business would you say offer the best opportunities for growth for Geotec?
Diamond drilling will always thrive because it is the heart of the mining industry – it brings the most representative sample of the minerals, especially now that we are working with producing mines. Besides this, mine dewatering is coming on strong as water needs to be removed from the pits. As mine pits get deeper, it is inevitably to stumble upon underground water, water that will interfere with mine operations. I think that there are some opportunities to develop technologies to tackle this water problem in a better and more efficient way. Drilling water wells to supply mine plant operations will tend to decrease in the future as these water wells are being replaced with seawater from desalination plants.