Geotech Drilling Services Ltd.

Geotechnical, exploration, environmental and geothermal drilling in Canada and beyond
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
John Carioti

Geotech Drilling Services Ltd. has been in business since 1996, when Steve Vlchek, now retired, established the business as an environmental and geotechnical drilling operation. Approaching a landmark 20 years in business, Geotech Drilling has expanded significantly over the last two decades. The company now provides a range of geotechnical, exploratory, and environmental drilling services to customers throughout British Columbia, Canada and overseas.

Jody Lambert is now the company’s president. He became involved with the business in 2000 and led the orchestration of a group of partners to facilitate a management buyout of Vlcheck some years later. Geotech employs 225 people, operating from two offices: one in Prince George, British Columbia, and the other in Vernon, British Columbia. The Geotech Drilling team serves customers all over the world, including western Canadian provinces and territories as well as South America, Africa and Greenland.

While all three service divisions of the company play important roles in relationships with clients, Lambert says that the exploration and geotechnical facets of the business are the focal points for Geotech Drilling. Clients all over the world have come to rely on the company’s reputation, experience and strong international resources for quality, efficient drilling services.

Exploration services

Geotech Drilling's exploration department was developed in 2006 to satisfy the requests of the company’s mining clients that were already taking advantage of the company’s strong geotechnical services. The business offers multiple drilling methodologies including core drilling (i.e. diamond drilling) of all typical core sizes up to PQ size, air coring, rotary air blast, wet rotary, bulk sampling and reverse circulation.

Exploration projects involve investigating the existence of, or defining, known deposits or suspected subsurface materials such as precious and base metals, coal and other valuable minerals. Mining companies contract drilling service providers to facilitate these subsurface investigations to evaluate their properties.

Geotech Drilling has performed exploratory drilling in the Canadian Arctic, Western Canada, the U.S., Chile, Greenland, Suriname and just recently started operations in West Africa. The business has worked for numerous major mining companies such as Anglo American, Newmont Mining, KGHM International, Teck Resources, TMAC Resources, Goldcorp, and Walter Energy Inc.

Geotech Drilling has participated in TMAC Resources’ Hope Bay drill program (formerly Newmont Mining’s program) in the Arctic Circle since 2008. The company drilled a total of 186,000 meters between the beginning of the project and 2014. The program consists of frozen lake drilling during the winter in harsh arctic conditions, transitioning to helicopter portable drilling on the tundra during the summer months.

Severe weather conditions have presented the greatest challenges to the team throughout the project. In an area where temperatures can fall as low as -80° Celsius, high arctic winds and flat landscape result in whiteout conditions and blowing snow. Even throughout the summer and fall seasons, all land-based drilling occurs in permafrost conditions. The company uses recirculation and capture of all drill cuttings to minimize the environmental footprint and potential risks to the tundra.

Lambert says another memorable exploration contract has been at the Sierra Gorda mine. Geotech began work at the Chilean mine in 2010, conducting geotechnical drilling and testing services for KGHM International. Based on the quality of service, the mining company extended Geotech Drilling an opportunity to provide exploration drilling services ongoing through 2012.

Throughout the program Geotech employed drill crews that consisted of up to 95 percent local national personnel, with only senior management and supervisory roles occupied by Canadian employees. Through this socially responsible opportunity for nationals, Geotech was able to gain exposure to cultural and language sensitivity, which otherwise may have presented challenges. Geotech was successful through its training and implementation of cultural awareness, which helped create a lasting partnership between all groups over the course of the program.

As the division continues to grow, Geotech Drilling has initiated the pursuit of completing the Drilling Excellence Certified (DEC) Program through the Canadian Diamond Drilling Association (CDDA), and is an active CDDA member since 2008. Geotech is also a member of the Coal Association of Canada, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Association of Mineral Exploration of British Columbia.

Geotechnical services

The company’s geotechnical division facilitates investigations to obtain information required by clients including the drilling of multiple boreholes, completed with various in-situ tests and installations. These testing techniques include standard penetration tests, cone penetration tests, packer tests (pneumatic and hydraulic), Shelby tubes, piston sampling, core orientation, vane shear (nilcon and standard) and hydro fracturing tests. Geotech also offers an array of instrumentation installation services including monitoring wells, vibrating wires, slope inclinometer casings, extensometers, de-watering pumps, and nested installations.

Geotech Drilling’s projects in this arena involve exploratory drilling combined with testing and instrumentation installation to determine sub-surface ground characteristics for infrastructure development purposes such as tailings storage feasibility or upgrades, pipeline alignment investigations, hydro-electric dam feasibility investigations or upgrades, road network evaluation, and construction and foundation design for buildings.

The business works for a variety of mining, consulting, construction and utility companies. Unlike exploration drilling, these geotechnical projects focus on the characteristics and structure of the subsurface material, rather than the value of the mineral composition. Similar to Geotech’s exploration services, these geotechnical services have grown significantly and include projects in the Canadian Arctic, Western Canada, USA, Chile, Greenland and Suriname. Clients include AMEC, Golder Associates, BGC Engineering, Stantec Consulting, Worley Parsons, SNC - Lavalin Thurber Engineering Ltd., Anglo American, KGHM International, Teck Resources, Grande Cache Coal, Columbia Power Corporation and BC Hydro.

Recent work includes a pipeline investigation in northeastern British Columbia in 2013 and 2014, working for Stantec on infrastructure owned by TransCanada. The crew completed a total of 17 boreholes on the Aiken portion of the program with an additional 22 boreholes drilled on the Kahta portion of the proposed pipeline route.

Boreholes were completed with ODEX, mud rotary and HQ3 drilling techniques, while completing standard penetration testing and Shelby tubes in overburden. On completion of the boreholes, Geotech installed various monitoring wells, slope inclinometers and vibrating wire piezometers. Prior to the drilling program, Geotech was responsible for coordinating site services such as pad building, fuel storage and delivery and office space.

Challenging conditions consisted of drilling during the winter season in subzero temperatures ranging from -30 to -50° Celsius with helicopter portable drills. Due to the remoteness and weather conditions of the drill sites, all water had to be flown in and recaptured to reduce environmental impact and to increase efficiency and utilization.

In spring 2014, Geotech Drilling participated in another pipeline investigation in northeastern British Columbia, this one for Thurber Engineering Ltd. The company used ODEX, wet rotary and HQ3 coring techniques to reach target depths at several creek and river crossings. Overburden depths extended to 190 meters on some boreholes, where drill crews utilized HWT and HQ methodologies combined with a rigorous mud program to advance through to bedrock.

Due to accessibility challenges during reduced visibility periods and colder temperatures, the company maintained 24-hour operations in combination with watch crews at each drill to maintain equipment and water supply for the operations during night shifts throughout the program. The Geotech Drilling team overcame additional challenges such as access to water, artesian ground pressure and access to sites during the spring thaw period in order to complete the program on time.

International growth

Over the years, Geotech Drilling has had to grow internally in order to keep up with the growth of projects and markets. In terms of staff, equipment and company structure, the business has made major adaptations to continue serving clients efficiently.

“With our diversified approach to the drilling industry, we require a fleet of new and multidiscipline rigs,” says Lambert. “We believe that offering different types of rigs has really separated us from the competition and is a benefit to our competitive advantage. It also allows us to be the one-stop-shop for clients who have special access pads. 20 years ago we started with a couple truck mounted drill rigs and today we have more 30 which now include multiple track mount, skid mount and helicopter portable drill rigs.”

In order to remain a top competitor in the industry, research and development has been a key pillar to the company’s success. “We have developed and continue to develop ancillary products to assist our operations,” says Lambert. “Throughout changes in the industry and new programs acquired by our team, we are consistently developing, internally and externally, new technologies and methods of drilling. A few significant examples include rod manipulator systems, mud recirculation systems and specialized drilling techniques.”

Geotech implements and continuously improves a positive, behavior-based safety culture throughout the organization that encourages personnel to view safety as a way of life, not only a condition of employment. As a company upholding a Certificate of Recognition (COR), Geotech encourages and rewards a philosophy of reduced risk tolerance as the team strives to achieve a corporate objective of zero injuries across all business units. Every member of the company will return home safely to their families at the end of each project.

Geotech’s dedication and continued efforts in health and safety was acknowledged in 2014 by the Association of Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AMEBC) and Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), by naming Geotech as the recipient of the 2014 David Barr Award for Excellence in Leadership and Innovation in Mineral Exploration and Safety and the Safe Day Everyday Gold Award. These awards demonstrate Geotech’s recognition for increased safety management and the company’s emergence as a leader in developing and nurturing a safety culture among its drill crews, which has been transferred from client to client. Geotech recorded 308,848 hours without a lost workday incident in 2013, enabling the team to be the recipient of the Safe Day Everyday Gold Award.

Because of this depth of resources, Geotech Drilling is building new relationships across the world. Lambert sees an increase in international work over the coming years. “In September 2014 we sent two exploration rigs and ancillary equipment and supplies to western Africa,” he elaborates. “This will be our first program in Africa and we are extremely optimistic for the future we have in that area. Our project team has been able to build new relationships in the region which look very promising.”

Lambert and his team are also exploring the potential of initiating operations and partnerships in the Middle East, an area he says has great potential. “We have already started creating these strategic partnerships and look forward to what is on the horizon,” Lambert notes.

As the company continues to build strong relationships throughout the world, Geotech Drilling Services Ltd. remains a leader in safe, comprehensive drilling solutions from the Canadian Arctic to West Africa.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Cassels Brock Lawyers
P & R Exploration Services Ltd.