Taking a global mining approach

Having a good reputation for working well in mining sites stands you in good stead. Jeremy Moore discusses running an international business and how having the right equipment can help make projects work better.

As a drilling company headquartered in Bath, it at first seems incongruous that Meridian Drilling counts work in one of the remotest areas on the planet – the Danakil Depression in north-eastern Ethiopia – among its active projects.

However, over the past few years Meridian has carefully assembled a core team of specialists experienced in working in some of the world’s most challenging environments.

That expertise, coupled with the determination to go where others fear to tread, has seen Meridian expand to about 150 staff.

Specialising in potash as well as precious and base metals, the firm is currently operating in the Ethiopia, Turkey and the Republic of Congo. Its experience in the developing world means its logistics and support infrastructure is excellent and the company recently opened an operations base in Dubai to bring it closer to projects in Africa and the Middle East.

But the firm is also committed to maintaining its Bath office, which is an ideal operations base for Europe as well as the UK.

The UK provides an excellent logistical hub as well as the improved confidence levels that clients have dealing with a UK company. In addition, the UK has some of the best health and safety systems in the world which we are following.

Having previously been a director of British drilling firm Emerson Moore, he is confident about the minerals industry in the UK and Europe and is actively seeking work within this area.

A planning hindrance

The UK and Europe does have significant benefits over a lot of countries in terms of security of tenure and transparency, an issue that is becoming increasingly important with recent anti-corruption legislation.

However, the industry is unfortunately hindered by the onerous planning and approvals process in the UK.

Last year Meridian Drilling spent several months working in Anglesey, north Wales, on the Parys mountain site on a programme exploring for Copper and Zinc on a volcanic massive sulphide deposit.

Parys mountain, owned by Anglesey Mining, is a copper-zinc-lead project with JORC code resources in excess of five million tonnes at more than 5% combined metal.

The Parys mountain is one of the few sites in Britain with evidence of prehistoric beginnings of the British metal mining industry. It is believed that Parys mountain was mined for copper ore in the early Bronze Age.

Sub-surface debris, nearly 4,000 years old, was revealed during excavations at the site during 2002. Since then, access has been regained to the sealed underground working of the Parys mine revealing further evidence of ancient mining.

The project, which ran from January-July 2012, was no different from any other Meridian has under taken – except for the climate.

This job was similar in that it is a mineral deposit and drilling is drilling. However, the climatic challenges are different – extreme high winds and rain rather than high temperatures. Also, ease of access to accommodation, infrastructure, spares and workshops meant the logistical challenges were significantly reduced.

For this project, Meridian invested in a new piece of machinery – an Integrol Explorer diamond drill rig. The lightweight heli-portable rig was mounted on a lightweight Marooka track. Being compact and low impact, the rig has a small environmental footprint.

Using this rig means that moving is very quick and the low ground pressure is ideal for the wet and boggy ground in Anglesey in winter time.  The rig is still at Anglesey but is likely to be heading for a new project in the Congolese jungle very shortly.

Ian Cuthbertson, finance director at Anglesey Mining said when planning the 2012 drilling programme they talked to several drilling contractors before settling on Meridian. “Previous work at Parys mountain by Meridian staff had been successful and gave Meridian a head start,” said Cuthbertson.

“A contract which satisfied the brief was negotiated and Meridian was able to commence work close to the preferred starting date.

“Anglesey Mining has always found it easy to work with Meridian and the 2012 programme was no exception. Where flexibility in timing has been required Meridian have been accommodating. This, combined with good equipment and the necessary technical expertise, led to a satisfactory completion of the work,” he added.

The Middle East – Future business

Meridian Drilling is working in the Republic of Congo, drilling for elemental minerals on the Sintoukola project, a high-grade potash deposit.

Its experienced teams have also been working on Cominco’s Hinda project in the Republic of Congo’s Kouilou province. The site covers a large coastal basin containing the Holle Formation and riverine and marine sedimentary phosphate deposits.

In September last year, Meridian opened a new office in Dubai. It is hoped the office will fuel an expansion in the Middle East.

Meridian’s services incorporate CBM, potash, minerals and coal exploration along with heliportable drilling operations. Meridian also offer water well and geotechnical drilling, providing a full package of skills for any project from grass roots exploration to a feasibility study.

The company has invested heavily in its fleet, with the majority of its rigs being under four years old.