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Right Balance

Finding the right balance in

exploration drilling
Chips or cores?
The question often faced by geolo-
gists and contractors is deciding
which method of exploration dril-
ling will get the most effective and
economical results. These days, the
answer is quite likely to be a com-
bination of chip sampling and co-
ring. Three key factors have proved
decisive in the successful search
for minerals and precious metals:
time, cost and confidence. In other
words, the time required, the cost
of getting the job done, and con-
fidence in the quality of the sam-
ples brought to the surface for
analysis. This is more a question
of basic technology and logic than
one of science. But it is interest-
ing to see these three factors ex-
pressed as a mathematical for- There are pros and cons with both RC drilling and core drilling.
mula: confidence over time multi-
plied by cost, equals profit. With
profit, as always, as the driving
Substantial savings can be made by pre-collaring holes using RC drilling, once
the general location of the mineralized zone has been established.

Conventional core drilling

The technique which produces cores of
subsurface material, core drilling, is the
most commonly used method of obtain-
ing information about the presence of
minerals or precious metals, as well as
rock formations. However, reverse cir-
culation drilling (RC), which produces
samples as chips, is gaining ground.
The reason is easy to see. RC drilling
is a faster and more economical way of
pre-collaring a deep hole in order to get
down to where the orebody is located. Fast and
Once there, the driller can then decide RC drilling
to continue with RC drilling to extract without taking
chips for evaluation, or switch to dia- samples
mond core drilling to extract cores. In
this way, RC drilling becomes the per-
fect complement to conventional core Pre-collaring Mineralized zone: Chip
drilling. Selecting which method to samples from RC and/or
cores for evaluation
use for actual sampling work depends
largely on the preference of the geo-
logists, and their confidence in the
quality of the samples. Today, RC dril-
ling has become so advanced that more

underground mining methods 17

Right Balance

of parts, fuel, casing, water, and con-

sumables also have a direct influence
Scenario 1 on the number of metres drilled per
100% core drilling 70m core / 24 hours with 1 core drilling rig
457 days
Scenario 2
Significant time savings can be achie-
50% RC (pre-collars only), 50% core drilling 70m core / 24 hours with 1 core drilling rig ved by using RC and core drilling in
301 days a balanced combination (see table 1).
Scenario 3 Here we can see that one RC rig can be
75% RC (pre-collars & full holes), 25% core drilling 70m core / 24 hours with 1 core drilling rig used to drill enough pre-collars to keep
223 days
three core drilling rigs running for 24
In case three core drilling rigs would have been available in scenario 1, expected time is h/day. The time factors show obvious
152 days compared with 457 days. benefits using a combination of the two
In case three core drilling rigs would have been available in scenario 2, expected time is methods. In this scenario, a minimum
149 days compared with 301 days. of 25% of the total metres drilled were
A rough conclusion gives that the RC rig is somewhat faster than 3 core drilling rigs together.
specified as core drilling.
Table 1.
Cost factor
As early as 1887, Atlas Copco Craelius The cost perspective does not have
457 days 2,580,000 USD
301 day 740,000 USD had developed a rig that could retrieve any negative surprises in store as the
223 day 320,000 USD cores from depths of 125 m. Confidence costs are mostly related to the time fac-
in these samples among geologists was tor. The investment in RC rigs and equip-
Approx. cost of RC drilling – 30 USD / metre high, allowing them to evaluate a piece ment is higher compared to those of
Approx. cost of core drilling – 80 USD / metre core drilling, but as shown in table 2,
of solid rock. In those days, time was
not necessarily of any great importance the costs are reduced when a combina-
Table 2. and neither was cost, with inexpensive tion of the two methods is used.
manpower readily available. In this example, it is shown that both
and more geologists believe that chips However, the demand for such pro- time and costs favour RC drilling. The
are perfectly sufficient as a means of ducts quickly increased, and availability figures are easy to evaluate. They vary
determining ore content. The commer- had to keep pace. This is very much the depending on the location and the local
cialization of RC drilling started in the case today with sharp market fluctu- conditions, but the relativity remains
1980s but the technique has certainly ations, and so technology innovators the same, and is strongly reflected in
been around for much longer. have to find ways to optimize profit in the development of the exploration
all situations. drilling process.
To further shorten time and cost, im-
Time factor mediate results from on-site evaluation
can be used, for which a scanning pro-
DTH hammers were invented in 1936 cess is already available.
and became popular during the 1970s, However, in the future it may not be
mainly for water well drilling applica- necessary to drill to obtain sufficient
tions. However, the method proved information about the orebodies, and
very useful for prospecting, affording manufacturers such as Atlas Copco
an initial evaluation on the spot of the Craelius are already taking up the chal-
cuttings emanating from the borehole. lenge to develop equipment and tech-
DTH drilling offers a considerably nologies with no limits and low envi-
higher drilling speed compared to core ronmental impact.
drilling, and the method was further
developed to increase its performance. Confidence factor
Higher air pressures combined with high
availability of the hammer are two fac- The third variable in the equation is
tors that make it possible to drill faster. the confidence factor, because investors
Durability of the bit inserts is also much and geologists place strict demands on
improved, allowing more metres to be contractors to deliver the highest qual-
drilled without having to pull up the ity geological information. Investors
drillstring, further improving efficiency always require a fast return on their in-
Principles for RC drilling showing flow of and utilization of the hammer. vestments, and the geologists need solid
compressed air and chips. The sampling
The logistics surrounding the dril- results for the mine planners. However,
collection box is integrated into the cyclone.
ling programme concerning availability whenever a gold nugget is found, the

18 underground mining methods

Right Balance

rC drilling
80 Core drilling




Canada latin russia australia Se asia uSa africa
america China

Ratios between core and RC drilling. The figures reflect total exploration expenditures from national statistics for surface and underground.

exploration drilling will not be carried of 500 m. By sealing off the bit from favour core drilling rigs, which are much
out by the same people, so reliability of the rest of the hole it can be kept dry. lighter and more adaptable in order
information is critical. There are many A correct selection of shroud vs bit tol- to be flown into remote and sensitive
reasons why geologists should choose erance maintains a pressurized zone environments.
their drilling method carefully. around the bit. Boosted air pressure is In areas with extremely cold climates
If there is no need for continuous in- needed to meet the higher water pres- and where permafrost is present, RC
formation about the geological forma- sure on its way down the hole. In addi- drilling may have its limitations. Anti-
tion on the way down, there is no need tion, a dry bit drills faster. freeze rock drill oil can help to keep
for samples. It is just a matter of mini- It must be remembered that infor- the hammer and bottom of the hole free
mizing the drilling time. The geometry mation from a core is crucial in esti- from ice. Other purely practical issues
of the orebody is already known, and mating the period of mineralized struc- determine the choice of one or the other
just a reconfirmation of the boundaries tures. The core helps the geologist to drilling method.
is necessary. In this case, RC drilling is calculate the cost of extracting the An intelligent, balanced choice be-
an efficient method to use. mineral from the ore. Large volumes of tween the two methods is the key to
A first scanning of virgin territory rock have to be excavated to obtain just optimal results. The geologist plays an
is being done where the goal is just to a few grammes of a valuable mineral. extremely important role in finding this
obtain a preliminary indication of pos- Cores also yield geotechnical data. balance, as do the manufacturers such
sible content. In this case, the geologist Data about slope stability can be of the as Atlas Copco Geotechnical Drilling
is not relying on any mineralized struc- highest importance. Ground conditions and Exploration, who continue to pro-
ture or geometry. With an evaluation are naturally also of great importance vide the right tools for the job.
giving positive results, a programme of and may produce questionable sam-
core drilling is the logical way to con- ples if some of the information from Jan Jönsson
tinue in order to bring the project to a fissured zones is left behind in the
resource/reserve status.If the minera- hole and not collected. In such circum-
lized structure is identified but the stances, core drilling could be the only
geometry and rate of content varies, alternative.
RC drilling is used as an indicator for
ensuring continued grade control. Increased usage of
The geologist wants dry and repre- RC drilling
sentative samples in order to make opti-
mal evaluations. RC drilling below the RC drilling is on the increase, and may
groundwater table was previously be- well account for 55% of all metres
lieved to undermine sample quality. drilled in 2008. The diagram above
Core drilling therefore remained the shows some estimated ratios between
only viable method for these depths core and RC drilling in different parts
Today, the availability of high pressure of the world in 2002. In terms of metres
compressors and hammer tools makes drilled, RC accounts for 50% and core
it possible for RC drilling to reduce drilling for 50%. Tradition and environ-
costs even for these depths. mental impact play large roles. RC rigs
These days, professional contractors are heavy, and are mounted on trucks
Explorac 220RC.
deliver dry sampling down to depths or track carriers. This fact tends to

underground mining methods 19

Superior Productivity
in Exploration Drilling

In these busy times for exploration drillers, the focus is on

superior productivity at lower cost.

Through innovative products, local presence and technical

support, Atlas Copco delivers the most competitive solutions
for diamond core drilling and reverse circulation.

On surface or underground, from Arctic regions to sunburnt

deserts - you can count on the most comprehensive range of
exploration drilling equipment wherever you are.

Committed to your superior productivity.