Seeing a gap in the market an experienced driller and an actuarial scientist and transport company owner established ADIA member-contractor Precision Drilling Australia in 2020 and with plans to make notable investments in its equipment and fleet, the future is bright. Jamie Wade writes.
Like many great inspirations in the drilling industry, the foundations of Precision Drilling Australia emerged after many late-night conversations – and a few beers – when Mathew Feeney and Jonathan Nguyen saw a noticeable gap in the Western Australia geotechnical and environmental market. It was a void created as longstanding industry players expanded their focus to larger projects and the exploration sector – a shift that left smaller to mid-sized projects and consultants underserved.
Mathew has nearly a decade of experience in the drilling industry, primarily specialising in the geotechnical and environmental field, with a brief stint in exploration. Jonathan, on the other hand, pursued actuarial science at Curtin University in WA before venturing into the industry. He diversified his interests by founding a transport company, which has steadily grown to operate a fleet of 48 trucks.
Precision Drilling Australia formally commenced its operations in early May 2020, marking its inauguration with the completion of its initial geotechnical project at the Agnew Gold Mine for Goldfields in September that year.
The contractor’s core business revolves around delivering geotechnical and environmental drilling services with a particular emphasis on specialised equipment installation such as Vibrating Wire Piezometers (VWP), packer testing, and Standard Penetration Testing (STP). Additionally, the company has ventured into the shallow exploration sector, utilising high-capacity rigs designed with a small footprint for efficient operations.
The backbone of Precision Drilling Australia’s success lies within its management team, comprising several key individuals. These include Mathew, as managing director, operations manager Ryan Wilhelm, Blake Slatter who is responsible for mobilisation and maintenance management, and Dennis Divjakoski, who oversees human resources and occupational health and safety matters.
Precision Drilling Australia primarily concentrates its service efforts within Western Australia. However, the company has also achieved success in other regions, including South Australia and the Northern Territory. Notably, Precision has undertaken a significant tailings storage facility project in Queensland.
Currently, the company directly employs a workforce of 29 individuals. Additionally, there are 106 personnel employed through sister companies engaged in the transport and mechanical sectors.
Precision Drilling Australia has a fleet of six standardised rigs, all of which are Hydropower Scout V rigs. Among these, four rigs are mounted on trucks, while the remaining two are situated on tracks. Anticipating future expansion, the company is planning to acquire two additional assets in early 2024.
The business has maintained a consistent rig utilisation rate of 80 percent throughout the year. Notably, this rate is projected to surge to 100 percent during the second and third financial quarters of 2024.
While Precision Drilling Australia is still a relatively new player it has already amassed a strong track record in several significant projects.
In early 2021, the addition of Ryan Wilhelm as Precision’s operations manager bolstered the team and contributed to business growth. By late 2021, Precision had expanded its fleet to include three rigs and by early 2022, the company achieved a significant milestone by securing its first long-term projects with industry giants BHP and Iluka. In late 2022, Precision further scaled its operations, increasing its rig count to six. In June 2023, a noteworthy achievement was unlocked as Precision successfully completed its first fully upgraded Zero Energy Rig.
A standout project included a challenging 890 metre geotechnical borehole, which was executed with precise adherence to stringent deviation guidelines, making it a noteworthy achievement.
Another remarkable and intriguing project involved a significant environmental groundwater campaign for a highly regarded Tier 1 client. This project involved the installation of monitoring bores, reaching depths of up to 230m, amid exceptionally demanding ground conditions. These challenges encompassed various complexities such as encountering banded iron rock formations, navigating through substantial voids, and addressing fractures, all while contending with alluvial terrain.
The outcomes achieved in this project were substantial, as Precision Drilling Australia successfully met and conquered these formidable geological challenges. The installation of monitoring bores at such depths and under challenging conditions demonstrates the company’s expertise and capabilities in tackling intricate environmental projects.
Trends and developments
Reflecting on trends and developments in drilling technology and techniques since the company was established Mathew said there had been a significant transformation.
“Most notable is a substantial emphasis on enhancing safety features within drill rig operations,” he said.
“This includes the implementation of crucial safety components, a robust focus on remote drilling functionalities, and the adoption of hands-off steel drilling techniques.
“These changes have been instrumental in eliminating line-of-fire hazards at the drilling site. In response to these evolving practices, Precision Drilling Australia has proactively embraced and incorporated these advancements into its drilling operations.”
Since its establishment, Precision has also observed a notable transformation in client demands.
“There has been a pronounced shift towards a greater emphasis on safety as opposed to a sole focus on production-based drilling,” Mathew said.
“This shift is particularly encouraging, as it reflects an increasing number of individuals choosing careers in the drilling industry with a heightened awareness of safety considerations.”
While Precision Drilling Australia has enjoyed great success it has not been without its share of challenges mainly related to supply chain disruptions. These challenges revolve around sourcing essential parts and equipment required for upgrading its assets. That said, the upcoming 12 months hold great promise for Precision Drilling Australia in 2024.
The company anticipates significant infrastructure projects commencing throughout Western Australia. Additionally, there is a notable emphasis on exploring opportunities within the exploration sector, particularly in the realms of lithium, rare earth minerals, and gold, which is currently experiencing record-high prices. Precision Drilling Australia is keen to capitalise on these opportunities and aims to make substantial strides in these areas.
“We have plans to make notable investments in equipment and fleet,” Mathew said.
“Specifically, we’re considering the addition of two brand-new, larger multipurpose rigs to our line-up. These rigs are set to incorporate innovative and impressive features. Additionally, we will continue our efforts in upgrading the existing geotechnical hydropower fleet as part of our investment strategy.”
Precision Drilling Australia extends its heartfelt appreciation to all subcontractors and dedicated field staff who play an integral role in ensuring the smooth operation of its rigs and meeting its clients’ demands.
“Without their unwavering commitment and hard work, our endeavours, especially in the challenging conditions of the Pilbara region in Western Australia, would not be possible,” Mathew said.
Article published in AUSTRALASIAN DRILLING OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2023.