Dec '10/Jan '11

A multinational achievement

Canadian driller played its role in Chilean rescue

By Heather Ednie

Chile mine rescue 

Cementation Canada on-site supervisor Glen Fallon (left) speaks with Laurence Golborne, Chilean Minister of Mines | Photo courtesy of Cementation Canada Inc.

Among the many achievements surrounding the mine rescue in Chile, a team that included staff from Cementation Canada had the honour of carrying out the Plan A drilling program.

Cementation’s Chilean partner, Terraservice, was the group that broke through with a 12.5-centimetre reverse circulation hole on August 22 and confirmed that the miners were still alive. The following day,

Terracem (a joint venture company owned by Terraservice and the Murray & Roberts Cementation Group) mobilized one of Cementation Canada’s Strata 950 raise boring drills used at the Andina copper mine to excavate

a 72-centimetre diameter access hole to reach the men 700 metres below surface. Technical assistance was provided from Cementation’s operations in South Africa, Australia and Canada, along with the on-site supervision of Cementation Canada employee Glen Fallon of North Bay, Ontario.

Ultimately, the miners were brought to the surface through a second of three drill holes. The third group on-site were oil drillers Precision Drilling from Calgary.

“As ‘Plan A’ we were drilling the hole with the intention to open it up and ream it,” said Cementation president Roy Slack, who was on-site at the mine during the first week of September. “However, when ‘Plan B’ — a well drill opening an existing five-inch hole, operated by the Chilean company GeoTech — got near, we put our operation on hold.”

The Cementation plan to excavate the drilled hole was a two-step process. Once the initial pilot hole was completed using directional drilling techniques, it would have been up-reamed to a final diameter of 72 centimetres. On October 9, when the Plan B drill broke through, this hole had reached over 600 metres in depth.

Slack added that had the Plan B drilling encountered any difficulties, the Cementation plan would have reached the miners during the second week of November, ahead of the announced four-month plan. “Modifications to our approach, including the design of an up-reaming instead of a down-reaming method, all helped to advance the schedule,” Slack explained, adding he thought that the Chilean government was very smart in their approach to the rescue. “They took three very different types of technologies and let them operate, recognizing that each method had different challenges and opportunities.”

State-owned mining company Codelco managed the rescue. “The whole mining community was on call and would have gone to help,” said Slack. “We happened to be local and ready. The ground was pretty good in the areas we were drilling; it was a straightforward operation.”

The show of support for the effort was outstanding. Slack spent a lot of time managing the communication efforts of a vast number of colleagues and peers wanting to lend a helping hand. “In our business, one raise bore hole is not a big project,” he said. “In this particular one, operations from around the world were all working together. I helped coordinate the effort. We had lots of emails — even from strangers — with suggestions and helpful advice.”

Slack is proud of his team and deeply relieved the workers were saved, but he said there are unresolved issues surrounding the incident. “From a safety perspective, this is a good news story as the miners are alive and well. But the question is: How do we make sure such a thing doesn’t happen again?”

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