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Tips for High Altitude Diamond Drilling

posted by the Epiroc Exploration & OreBody Solutions team

January 8, 2018

Sometimes in diamond drilling the drilling operation takes you to far away lands that are high up…really high up. Drilling that is performed at altitudes that are higher than 15,000 feet is considered high altitude drilling. The problem with high altitude drilling is the adverse conditions that drillers will encounter. These adverse conditions will affect the health of drillers and how drilling equipment performs. When you start getting higher than 10,000 feet, getting enough oxygen becomes a challenge not just for drillers but for your engine and hydraulics as well.

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What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness, occurs when the pressure of the air (barometric pressure) changes. In higher altitudes, the pressure drops and there is less oxygen available. If your body is not used to the new air pressure, you can get altitude sickness. Your body needs time to adjust to the new air pressure. Symptoms usually occur within 12-24 hours of reaching higher elevation.


How lack of oxygen affects drillers

One of the main things to keep in mind is that the lack of oxygen at high altitudes affects people differently – it has nothing to do with the general fitness level of an individual. Whether you are thin, heavy, or muscular will not predict how you will react to high altitudes. Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, headache, dizziness, lack of appetite and problems sleeping. As someone I know mentioned, it is like trying to run with someone on your back and their hand over your mouth.

Diamond drilling sites do not have pressure chambers to re-acclimatize your body so the only way to get better is to get down to a lower elevation. Other tips include drinking lots of fluids, eating regular meals and staying away from alcohol: simple but effective advice. You should try to sleep at lower elevation to lessen the stress on the body. When you are working at higher altitudes, try to go up for shorter times and come back down to get your body used to the higher elevation.


How lack of oxygen affects the equipment

While lack of oxygen affects your body, you must remember that it also affect your drilling equipment and machinery as well. A diesel engine will not run properly when oxygen is depleted as the air will be too thin to burn as much fuel as at sea level. The engine will be starved for air so you will see a loss of power and torque output will fluctuate. The loss in horsepower can be as much as 3% for every thousand feet above sea level.

Diesel powers everything so as you lose power you will lose pumping force and water circulation could become a problem. Rotation and feed pressure can also be affected. Make sure to flush the pump.


How high altitude affects conditions

You should also be aware that in mountainous conditions, the rock is likely to be in poor condition and broken so you will probably need drilling fluid additives. The temperatures in the mountains are often very low, so you should take precautions for cold temperatures. Do not be caught unprepared. On a given day the temperature may not be too bad but mountain conditions can change suddenly and before you know it you are dealing with freezing conditions.


The take away from all this is that when you have a drilling project in high altitudes, be prepared and take the necessary precautions to stay safe. If possible, get a high altitude kit for your engine, and pressurize your hydraulic reservoirs to ensure proper functioning. Have a medical test beforehand and bring cold weather gear. Be aware of mountain sickness symptoms and get down to lower elevations if necessary. Make sure that 2018 is a safe year.