A year in drilling

November 25, 2021

Given the year so far, I think it is fair to say the drilling sector has held up quite well. Most of our British Drilling Association (BDA) members have reported buoyancy with work and with many infrastructure projects ahead this optimism looks well-placed.

2021 saw the BDA membership successfully transition to remote conferencing for meetings, which not only saved committee members and their employers the expense of travel and hotels, but also widened participation with geographical location no longer a factor on attendance. Tackling a wide variety of subject areas – from groundwater issues through to achieving net zero – such is their popularity it is hoped they will become a permanent feature running in addition to face-to-face seminars, which still have a place due to their social nature and vital role in networking. Already, the BDA has a great list of topics and presenters lined up for 2022.

Recognising the need to widen diversity and inclusivity within the drilling sector, as well as the construction industry in general, the BDA contributed £2,600 to Ground Forum’s mentoring initiative. The scheme is already making an impact, directly engaging with presently underrepresented groups within the construction sector. Longer term the scheme should also help tackle the ever-present skills shortage, which threatens to impact the growth of the entire construction industry.

Perhaps the highlight of the year has to be the changes we have made to the BDA Audit. The BDA Audit underpins everything the BDA stands for and whilst it has helped elevate the status of the drilling sector, raising standards and levels of professionalism, it had to move on. Where typically the audit has focussed on areas of compliance, health and safety regulations and legislation applicable to land drilling operations, this year the BDA added a number of additional questions, which were designed to specifically broaden the scope of the audit. Though safety is still of the utmost importance, the audit will now look at assessing the competence of a drilling crew’s compliance with drilling-specific standards to achieve quality results. It will no longer be to just ensure a driller is drilling safely. Since its 2020 overhaul, the BDA audit has already seen a 25% growth in uptake, which validates the changes implemented and provides confidence that the BDA is on the right track to achieve its ambition of over 300 audits in its first full year of operation of its new format.

Staying with the audit, this year also saw the exciting news it is now third-party accredited, which brings many more benefits to those holding it. Third-party accreditation, which was achieved via the Minerals Product Qualification Council (MPQC), has long been an aim of the BDA and it is a significant milestone for the organisation. Third-party accreditation now means the assessment and quality assurance of the audit is externally verified by an industry-recognised training and assessment body, bringing the audit fully in line with BS22475-2&3. It also means there is a high level of compliance with all required standards and legislation, and that consistency is maintained throughout the undertaking of all audits.

In fact, the process off accreditation examined all the BDA’s internal policies and procedures for compliance with MPQC requirements, to ensure the audit met and continues to meet its stated objectives. During this application, the BDA Audit’s management and internal verification processes were also examined closely, along with random sampling of completed audits to ensure compliance with expectations. This random sampling was coupled with close inspection of the data management processes and checking of qualifications of all audit staff. It is fair to say the BDA Audit, now more than ever, reflects the drilling sectors commitment to the highest levels of professionalism and standards and there can be few reasons not to commit to it.

2021 also saw the publication of the BDA’s Rotary Drilling Manual, which is aimed at inexperienced drillers and crew, site supervising engineers, quantity surveyors, clients and their advisers and insurers. It provides a clear and succinct reference document for all techniques of rotary drilling including ground investigation, water well formation, geothermal drilling and installation, mineral exploration, and geotechnical process less than 300mm diameter. The publication was long overdue, providing a much-needed definitive guide to rotary drilling that goes beyond just safety but to discuss methodologies, as well as good practice, execution, and reporting. We hope the manual will be the go-to document for all who desire to raise and maintain standards within the drilling sector and if the number of downloads to date is anything to go by, it has been extremely well received. The manual has also helped the BDA – for the first time ever –  be shortlisted for a Ground Engineering Awards too.

This year, the BDA Awards, which, due to COVID, have been run virtually for the past two years, attracted some outstanding entries and I would like to congratulate all those that were shortlisted and the eventual winners. All entries, of which there were many, are testament to the innovation and quality of work being undertaken by members too. For the Awards 2022, we plan to return to a face to-face event, as the social aspects are equally important as the Awards themselves. Talking of face-to-face events, it was great to see the return of the extremely popular Annual BDA Golf Day, which was just as competitive as ever.

This year saw 12 candidates from 5 BDA member companies join the BDA SAP Apprenticeship Scheme 2021/22, which is an excellent result. The Scheme consists of 22 days of classroom/site training and minimum of 80 days on site supervised training, with the end result apprentices holding NCON skills Award Level 2 Diploma in Drilling Operations – Land Drilling – Lead Driller. All candidates will also undertake a “BDA Audit” as part of the scheme.

Membership has grown steadily during 2021, which is always good news and the best endorsement of the work and activities that the BDA undertakes. To support the membership, the BDA has appointed a new General Manager – Joel Stevens – who will hit the ground running when he starts 1st January. Joel will be the central point of contact for all BDA members, and we hope the role will encourage greater member participation going forward.

I could continue to list achievements, as this year has been entirely productive for the BDA, and it will conclude the year on something of a high. However, the BDA recognises the future does present some challenges too. The impact of material prices, such as steel, is always a concern and there is a dwindling supply of labour too. As an optimist, if the last 12-months or so have shown us anything, it is the drilling sector is resilient and ready to face the challenges of the future no matter what they may bring!

Author:  Richard Fielden, Chair of the British Drilling Association

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