In 2020, Major Drilling Group International Inc. marks its 40th anniversary of operation and reflects on four decades of expansion and drilling specialization. The year’s celebrations are inaugurated with a historic drilling achievement. On January 26, 2020, Major Drilling broke the record for the longest diamond drill hole in Canada at 3,467 meters reached at the Osisko Mining Windfall property in Quebec.
This accomplishment emphasizes the strength of the foundation laid in 1980, when the company formed. Major Drilling is headquartered in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, and is one of the world’s largest drilling services companies primarily serving the mining industry. Known throughout the industry as the leader in specialized drilling, Major Drilling also boasts a management team with more than 1,000 years of combined experience and expertise.
Major Drilling has a proven history of responsible fiscal oversight, sensible expansion and conscientious management. “The management team is proud to mark this 40-year milestone,” Denis Larocque, President and CEO of Major Drilling, said. “We are pleased at how well positioned the company is to continue its leading place in worldwide specialized drilling now and for years to come.”
Major Drilling maintains field operations and offices in Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Clients can receive a complete suite of drilling services including surface and underground coring, directional, reverse circulation, sonic, geotechnical, environmental, water-well, coal-bed methane, shallow gas, underground percussive/longhole drilling, surface drill and blast, and a variety of mine services. Major Drilling is registered to operate in 20 countries on six continents. It offers more than 600 drills and a global workforce of more than 2,500 employees who can tackle a variety of specialized drilling projects. Major Drilling is also known throughout the industry as an innovative and vital Canadian firm.
The 40th anniversary comes on the heels of a successful year that featured a key acquisition, four new drill types and ongoing partnerships. Major Drilling’s top stories in 2019 include the purchase of Norex Drilling, helping to expand Canadian exploration potential. The company also continued Inuit and First Nation partnerships, offered new drills for exploration and drill and blast projects, completed block cave pre-conditioning with Freeport Indonesia, maintained its ongoing partnership at Oyu Tolgoi, and achieved a record 1,985-meter NQ hole in Mexico.
Publicly Traded Worldwide Drilling Leader
Another notable milestone in 2020 is the 25th anniversary of Major Drilling Group International Inc. undertaking its initial public offering and listing shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Major Drilling became part of Standard & Poor’s Canadian Index Operation in 2007.
In the company’s early years, Major Drilling pursued a strategy of expanding geographically as a conventional drilling company. After acquiring several mineral exploration drilling companies in Eastern Canada between 1980 and 1985, Major Drilling maintained a successful strategy to buy equipment at a reasonable price. This approach strengthened the company by adding talented and experienced personnel and increasing the geographic reach and client diversity of its business.
Canadian Beginnings, Worldwide Expansion
The company’s first steps in 1980 were to acquire Ideal Drilling Ltd., based in Bathurst, New Brunswick, and Dominik Drilling Inc., based in Val d’Or, Québec, in 1981. It then purchased Hosking Diamond Drilling of Rouyn, Québec, in 1984. Later that year, Kennebec Drilling Ltd. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Maine Diamond Drilling, Inc., became Major Drilling affiliates.
In the early 1990s, Major Drilling management looked toward international expansion by growing and developing foreign subsidiaries to develop markets in Mexico and South America. Growth included Venezuela in 1992, Mexico in 1993, Guyana Shield Region in 1995, Argentina in 1996, and Chile in 1998. South American operations further expanded in 2007 when Major Drilling’s Chilean subsidiary purchased an exploration drilling company, Harris y Cia Ltda., and the company acquired the assets of Paragon del Ecuador S.A. The purchase of the Bradley Group in 2011, grew Major Drilling’s operations in Suriname, Colombia, and the Philippines.
The late 1990s saw Major Drilling expand its Canadian operations into British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Operations were established there through the 1997 acquisition of the J.T. Thomas group of companies. Major Drilling acquired control of UDR Group Limited that year, entering the drilling manufacturing and distribution business. Major Drilling later sold UDR Group Limited in 2006 to focus its corporate resources on the specialized mineral drilling business. A further acquisition in the late 1990s included the Midwest group of companies in Canada and many of its experienced drillers such as 50-year veteran driller, Bruno Zerbin.
Kelly Johnson, Major Drilling’s Senior VP Operations – North America & Africa, like Zerbin, began his career with Midwest Drilling. Since 1978, Johnson has made drilling his life work and joined the Major Drilling management team when Major Drilling acquired Midwest Drilling in 1998.
Johnson recognizes the expertise of the Major Drilling workforce with continued improvements and commitment to safety as reasons for Major Drilling’s operational success. “I’ve seen a lot of change in the industry through automation and innovation,” he said. “These changes make it so our best asset—our drillers and staff—create results for our clients, keeping hard-earned expertise and safety at the forefront of our worldwide drilling projects.”
Further global expansion turned toward Australia with the 1997 acquisition of Pontil Pty. Limited, an Australian-based mineral exploration drilling company. Major Drilling acquired further assets Down Under through the 2001 purchase of certain drilling assets and contracts of Ausdrill Limited’s Eastern Australian Drilling Division located in Eastern Australia and New Zealand. The purchase of Raematt Drilling followed in 2004.
Though Major Drilling’s Australian operations would eventually dissolve in 2014 due to the worldwide mining industry downturn, the purchase of Australian-based mineral exploration drilling company, Pontil Pty. Limited, led to business in Indonesia that continues today.
A great benefit to the Pontil purchase was the addition of John Ross (JR) Davies to the Major Drilling team. Davies worked with Pontil Pty. Limited before it was acquired by Major Drilling. He now serves as Major Drilling’s VP Operations – Asia. His experience in drilling spans more than 30 years with operations oversight for Major Drilling’s significant Asia partnerships including Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia and at Freeport Indonesia.
The Major Drilling Indonesia block cave pre-conditioning team poses at the entrance at Freeport Indonesia’s Deep MLZ mine.
Much of Major Drilling’s work in Indonesia enhances the vast Grasberg Mining District at the Deep Mill Level Zone underground mine operated by Freeport Indonesia. Block cave pre-conditioning work is making mine expansion possible there. The Major Drilling team is responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment associated with this specialized drilling process, along with communicating to the Freeport engineers about the progression of fracs as per Freeport’s instructions.
“I have personally been involved with drilling operations at Freeport, from start up to today’s block cave pre-conditioning work. It’s always great to visit the site and see how the Major Drilling teams are continuously diversifying the drilling services we are providing,” Davies said.
At Major Drilling’s Ceger, Jakarta, Indonesia, warehouse and workshop are (left to right) JR Davies, VP Operations – Asia; Christian Galih, Assistant Inventory Controller; Andry Christianto, Maintenance Planner; Denis Larocque, President & CEO; Doly Tjioe, Inventory Controller; Kerryn Hornby, General Manager – Indonesia; Febby Sukmana, Logistic Supervisor; Firmansyah, Logistic.
Half a world away, further expansion began in 1999 with the opening of Major Drilling operations in Tanzania. Later acquisitions on the African continent included the 2006 purchase of the Longstaff group in Southern Africa, Botswana, and Namibia and the 2011 purchase of Resource Drilling in Mozambique. Operations in Mozambique include Major Drilling’s non-stop drill and blast performance where teams work around the clock to support resource excavation. Major Drilling’s African operations continue mainly in Mozambique and South Africa today.
The Major Drilling Mozambique team is shown assembled at work with dill and blast rigs.
Specialized Drilling Dominance
Geographical expansion shifted toward specialized drilling market dominance at the turn of the millennium. A substantial build up of specialized capabilities and a specialized fleet compliments strategic acquisitions of specialized drilling firms.
Such specialized work is ongoing at the massive Oyu Tolgoi Mine in Mongolia where Major Drilling is a key part of the family of contractors supporting eventual gold and copper production through block cave tracking. Major Drilling has been operating as the incorporated subsidiary, Major Drilling Mongolia XXK, since 2002.
North American operations have expanded with multiple acquisitions since 2005. The approach underpins the mining industry acknowledgement that ore bodies will take more exploration knowledge and specialized drilling to reach them. So, Major Drilling increased USA operations with the 2005 purchase of Dynatec Corporation’s Western United States Drilling Division including drill rigs, related equipment, inventory and drilling contracts. This acquisition continues to position Major Drilling as an effective presence in the substantial and profitable North American mining region. Environmental Drilling services began with the acquisitions of SMD Services and North Star Drilling LLC in 2010.
Clients in the North American region have shared their accolades recognizing Major Drilling teams in the USA for valued partnerships such as dewatering innovation at the Rio Tinto Kennecott tailings project in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, as well as top-quality professionalism and performance from Major Drilling teams at the Desert Hawk Gold Corp project near Gold Hill, Utah.
Major Drilling completed the purchase of family-owned, Timmins, Ontario-based Norex Drilling in 2019 creating a strong position for surface and underground exploration drilling services in the region.
On the Canadian side of its North American acquisitions, Major Drilling continues to add valuable assets in equipment and personnel. In 2008, Major Drilling acquired Forage à Diamant Benoit Ltée based in Val d’Or, Québec. The purchase of Taurus Drilling in 2014, with its Canadian and the USA assets and operations, established Major Drilling’s entry into the underground percussive drilling market. The 2019 acquisition of Norex Drilling Limited, based in Timmins, Ontario, creates a strong position to service customers in both surface and underground exploration drilling services in the prolific Northeastern Ontario region.
Major Drilling’s tagline, “Quality. Safety. Results.” reflects the commitment to safety Major Drilling is known for throughout the world as the leader in specialized drilling. Ben Graham, Major Drilling’s Vice President of Human Resources and Safety, said, “Knowing how to recognize, control, and reduce risk means our expertly trained teams are ready to do each job well and safely.”
Flagship safety initiatives are the TAKE 5 risk assessment, a newly-launched Critical Risk Management program, and a daily proactive approach to the health and safety of all Major Drilling employees.
Simone Santos is Major Drilling's first female underground drill supervisor. She works daily to employ life-saving safety measures for her team at Major Drilling Brazil.
Results of these efforts are apparent with industry accolades recognizing millions of hours of work without lost-time injury. Major Drilling has received many safety and industry awards over the past decade:
- Best Drilling Company – Mongolia Drilling Association 2019
- Safe Day Everyday Gold Award Canada 2018
- Safety Performance Achievement and Recognition Indonesia 2018
- National Drilling Association (NDA) Award 2017
- Safe Day Everyday Gold Award Canada 2017
- Rio Tinto Growth & Innovation Award 2017
- Safe Day Everyday Gold Award Canada 2016
- Cameco Global Safety First Award Canada 2015
- Resolution Copper Contractor of the Year 2014-2015
- Cameco Global Safety First Award Canada 2014
- Cameco Global Safety First Award Canada 2013
- Cameco Global Safety First Award Canada 2011
- Supplier Award – Peabody Winsway Resources 2010
- Cameco Global Safety First Award Mongolia 2010
- Best Safety Contractor -Oyu Tolgoi (Rio Tinto) 2009
Major Drilling is also a company with a culture of caring. Actions speak louder than words as Major Drilling branches share their time, abilities and donations across the globe. Many #MajorDrillingCares initiatives in Brazil, the Philippines, Mongolia, Canada, USA, Mexico and more improve the communities where these branches do business. Ongoing social responsibility efforts show how #MajorDrillingCares.
Major Drilling’s history of hard work and expansion has developed a hard-earned and well-known global presence for 40 years. Decades of success set a strong precedent for future success.
In 2020, Major Drilling introduces its Trailblazer initiative. The innovative program offers the ability to digitize and automate drilling solutions for a better future. By incorporating impactful technologies paired with a commitment to environmental and social responsibility, Major Drilling is positioned to remain a global leader as mine discovery and development evolves.
Significant ongoing investment in personnel and training ensure continued growth for Major Drilling’s expert and experienced workforce in every Major Drilling location around the world.
“As we mark the 40th anniversary of Major Drilling, we recognize our employees for the difficult work they do, often at remote locations, that is very demanding,” Larocque said. “We are especially grateful to our partners who place trust in our teams every day to accomplish their mining and mineral exploration goals.”
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