The Future for the Australian Drilling Industry By John Emerson, WMC

The Australian drilling industry has over the past two years faced an unprecedented downturn in demand for its services. This downturn can be attributed to factors, which include a reduction in commodity prices and the complexities of government policies restricted land access, particularly in Australia. Looking ahead to the year 2001 and beyond, what can the industry expect and how can it change to survive in this demanding environment?

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed by drilling companies and their customers, supply companies, manufacturers, and the drilling Association which will ensure survival of the companies and the industry.

These are:

  • * Safety: Drilling personnel are still being injured on the job and traveling to work. The companies who address safety issues through management, training, modifying or purchasing equipment to overcome specific hazards, and who are sincere in these endeavors will reap the rewards, not only financial but also with the knowledge they have not injured anyone.

  • * Human Resources: An all-encompassing area that is tied into safety, performance, fitness for work, training, staff turnover, career development, and behavior. These areas are going to be vital to the survival of some companies and changes will have to take place in the way and manner people are remunerated for their services, work hours, work cycles, and training matrices for different positions. All of these issues are a direct result of the style of management of drilling companies. The 'culture' of the company must be aligned to requirements of their customers.

  • * Environment: The awareness of the environment will continue to become more important. Government and non-government organizations will continue to press for improvements in the way companies work within the environment, (clearing, water and land pollution). Improvements and direction in this area will come from manufacturers (biodegradable products), supply companies, drilling companies, the Australian Drilling Industry Association (drillers' licensing), and mining companies.

  • * Technology: Currently Australia is leading the world in this field. The industry must maintain an active role in this area to ensure our competitiveness. What technological innovation will be made is hard to define, but certainly automation, robotics, computer-assisted equipment, remote control, communication, and electronics will play a role in continuously improving drilling technology as we know it today. There is always the question "how can we get the information the client needs in a more efficient, safer, accurate, and cheaper manner?" This is the challenge for everyone associated with the drilling industry for the new millennium.

  • * Globalization: Over recent years there have been a number of mergers and acquisitions in the global drilling industry and the Australian drilling industry involving contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers. These mergers and acquisitions have changed the structure of the Australian drilling industry. There will always be a place for the smaller 'niche' drilling contractor, but it will be important that they form alliances with other companies (large and small) to ensure they maintain their market share of available work. The large number of Australian drilling personnel working overseas has also placed a drain on local industry. This will be an ongoing problem, which could be partly resolved by running drilling schools for people from other countries.

  • * Community: This can be defined as anyone affected by our industry and it could be a local farmer, a driller's family, conservationists, or a government department. This is an area which must be addressed by everyone to ensure we can continue to work effectively in the areas we want to.

The Australian drilling industry will come out of this current crisis in a stronger position, but it is now competing for market share in a global industry, which is constantly under pressure to improve in the issues outlined above. The drilling industry cannot live in isolation from this "new" business world and must embrace this trend. Management must be prepared to question status quo and make necessary changes to ensure the Australian drilling industry maintains its place as a leader in global drilling.

Drilling Into the New Millennium By David Stevens, Ausdrill

To look at where we might be going in exploration drilling in the future, it could be enlightening to look at the past. First we had hand set bits, then cast bits and more recently, impregnated bits using synthetic diamonds. Older drillers will be familiar with conventional drilling and the laborious task of pulling and lowering, much of which has been done away with by wireless drilling.

Drilling additives have made a major contribution to reduction in incidents of stuck rods and increases in penetration rates. Directional drilling has become an art and the methods for surveying drill holes have made giant strides.

Tripods have disappeared in Australia, to be replaced by hydraulically-erected masts and very few core drills are not now truck, or at least, trailer mounted. Hydraulic top drive, long stroke rigs are the norm rather than the exception.

Air drilling through the often-troublesome weathered profile, with the same rig that does the coring, has materially improved productivity.

However, air drilling itself has been an area where great advances have been made. Down the hole hammers have improved reverse circulation drilling with a diverter sub behind the hammer and now face-sampling hammers are almost universally used. Higher and higher air pressures, with ever-increasing volumes, mean we can drill deeper, faster, with air and still produce a valid sample.

All of this has contributed to a situation where, with greater capital investment, we are still drilling today at much the same prices as 20 years ago. How can this be? Efficiency and productivity must be an answer, but where do we go from here? It is difficult to see what more we can do, but the history of the world is of continuing advancement and the drilling industry will continue to improve. Already we are seeing levels of automation coming in. Mechanized rod loaders are being pushed by clients, not because they are intrinsically safer, or faster, but in my opinion because so many contracts are now written by professional contract writers rather than by people up at the sharp end. Mechanized make and break and rod spinners also are making an appearance with a positive impact on less incidents of hand injuries and back strains and reduction in fatigue.

Systems are now available for an unmanned underground drill to continue drilling, using preset parameters, while the area is cleared for a blast. How long then, before this technology is utilized for all drilling, not just the period when the rig is unmanned while blasting takes place, and not just underground? In this computer-driven society we live in, probably not long, but does this mean the demise of the driller as we have known him? Probably yes. As drill rigs become more computer driven, we will move into an era where drillers will all have to be computer literate and a strong back will no longer be a prerequisite.

Is it possible drilling parameters could be continuously monitored from a remote site, like head office, and changed remotely to suit changing conditions? Too much a flight of fancy? Perhaps, but satellite controls, like the controls on a number of underground rigs, away from the rig itself, are not too far away, I believe.

Well, what will happen to the old-time driller concept of standing by the rig listening, watching, and feeling? Probably a dying breed. Training will become more and more important, but the type and focus will change. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that attitudes to work and safety in the drilling industry will be affected by attitudes of the wider community and these are changing all the time. Not always for the better, I think.

Will there be room for the little man with one or two rigs? Probably not. The big will get bigger and invest more in computer-driven technological advances. If the small man does exist, he will have to understand turnover does not equal profit and two plus two equals four, not five.

In summary, greater automation and more training.

My wish list? To turn back the clock where will we find the Jack Glindemanns, the Wally Ungers, the Graeme Klucks, the Dave Truscotts, the Peter Gadens, the Frank Robinsons, the Oscar Millings, the Brian Manns and so many, many more. Gentlemen all, and the salt of the earth who made the drilling industry such a wonderful industry to be in.

Am I showing my age? Yes, but the 45 years I have had in the industry have been wonderful years, filled with wonderful people and unbelievably interesting places. I would not swap them for the next 45 years, thank you.

Will Changes Occur in the 21st Century? By Graeme Wakeling, ADIA

Many people have asked me over the past months what changes I can see in the coming years in the drilling profession. Like anyone else, I can only make an educated guess, with so many factors affecting what the future holds.

What I can see, however, is a far greater emphasis on profit, rather than survival cashflow which has become a way of life over the past two or three years. Cashflow may pay the bills that always seem to appear, but profit takes into account such things as return on investment, provision for new or upgraded equipment, and return on shareholders funds. The development of profit may mean development of alternate sources of income Ð for example the water well sector may become more heavily involved in pump installation, service and repairs, and the mineral sector in deep environmental work.

To develop profit we must be flexible, yet to be flexible we need to have resources behind us Ð these resources may include money and equipment, but key resources of people and innovation are the ones that we can develop Òin-house.Ó

I am of the opinion that to develop profit, some smaller contractors may join forces to prevent unnecessary duplication of equipment and facilities and provide better service to their combined range of clients and have a much-improved return on investment.

But time will tell Ð our profession has a lot of hard thinking and decision-making to do to achieve real profit, rather than live hand-to-mouth by cash flow alone.

This is a portion of an article that first appeared in Australasian Drilling and was entitled Australian 21st Century Challenges. It is reprinted with permission.