posted by Rod McCoremick, Blog author, Fordia Powered by Epiroc
April 29, 2020
Who would have thought a few months ago at the beginning of this year and this decade, that COVID-19 would impact so much of our lives? We had all heard about it, but it seemed far away. Now it has landed in just about every country and in everyone’s life. It has had a huge impact on so many industries such as healthcare, but how is it impacting the world of drilling and mining? We talked to a few sources to find out.
What is interesting in certain areas, North America being one, is how different regions have made differing decisions about what activities are considered essential services. This results in a drilling operation in one jurisdiction being shut down because its government had decided drilling and mining are not essential, while just 10 kilometers away and over a border, another drilling operation may in full operation because its government has decided otherwise. In one area, travelling over the border may be allowed while in others it may not be allowed. All this results in a lot of uncertainty.
It appears that drilling and mining companies have embraced the usual COVID-19 precautions in addition to the usual safety protocols. Face covers are mandatory, social distancing of at least 2-meters, personal protection equipment (PPE) including gloves worn at all times, frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds and coughing into elbows.
Social distancing is expected in all industries that remain open in order to protect the workers, but this is a lot easier in certain types of work. For example, in exploration drilling it is a lot easier to maintain a two-meter distance because there is more natural isolation. Exploration drilling is done out in the bush or in remote areas where there are not a lot of people to begin with. It can be pretty easy to maintain distance when there is only a driller and his helper.
Maintaining social distance in underground operations is more difficult due to the enclosed space. Before COVID-19, drillers would descend in an elevator (or cage) in very tight proximity, often twenty at a time. Now, a maximum of four drillers are allowed in the cage and they are asked to stay in the four corners facing away from each other to minimize the chance of air borne particles being shared.
Even in areas that are still operating, other logistical issues have to be considered. If the mining camps that are operating do not have enough local drillers, they must be brought in from outside the region and housed locally. Travel and lodging then become problematic if hotels are not open and if travel is restricted. How can you maintain social distancing if a private plane is used and that plane can only seat a few people in a tight space? Safety precautions in mess halls and shared showers may also pose a problem. In addition, when the workers return home, what is expected of them in terms of self-isolation? Many of these problems and considerations are being examined.
In North America, the arrival of COVID-19 coincided with what is called the “break-up”. This is when the lakes, frozen ground and ice are starting to break up due to the increase in temperatures. The increase in temperature causes a lot of difficult conditions in forests, including muddy, wet ground and roads becoming very bumpy with cracked asphalt. Normally, during this time, there is a slow down because a lot of drill rigs stop operations. The slow down due to COVID-19 was not as strongly felt because of its timing, however, depending on how long operations are stopped and whether there will be a second wave in the fall, COVID-19 may end up have a stronger impact on the mining and drilling sector.
Our operations are continuing, and you should know you can count on us for supplies and products. Our technical team is on standby to help out with advice and guidance so don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Our goal is to improve drilling performance and in these unusual and uncertain times, we are still here trying to make drillers’ lives easier. We are also wondering about how COVID-19 is affecting you.