BDA Lifetime Awards Winners 2021 Look Back on the Drilling Industry

February 7, 2022

The recent British Drilling Association (BDA) Awards 2021 recognised two members for their outstanding contribution and service to the drilling sector – Ivor Reilly, Manager of Wells Division at Causeway Geotech Limited and Paul Mellon, who has recently retired as the Geotechnical Manager, Transport Scotland. Both with wide raging and fascinating careers, we thought it would be interesting to get their perspective on their work in the drilling sector.

Ivor left school and began his working career in a bacteriological laboratory, before in 1964 joining Glover Site Investigations, a new company based in Northern Ireland as a laboratory technician testing soil. 1966 saw Ivor promoted to Laboratory Manager, before becoming Drilling Manager in charge of shell / auger, rotary and bored piling rigs, some 8 years later. As the company grew, though Ivor became a director in 1984 pricing contracts, he remained Drilling Manager until 2012 when he joined Causeway Geotech in logistics before becoming manager of its Waterwells Division in 2014, working also on geothermal wells and mini piling.

Ivor cites his site investigation work on the Belfast Urban Motorway as one of his most interesting projects with over 100 boreholes sunk all into bedrock and then rotary cored. Some holes were over 50m in depth with the project requiring 2 floating barges in the river to survey the best location for the bridge crossings. Some 2500 sand drains were carried out too to allow dissipation of the spoil on the approach roads.

Ivor has seen much change over his career, but he considers Rotary Drilling with wireline, GeoboreS and latterly Sonic Drilling as some of the most significant. Ivor feels the industry is going OK with no changes necessary on the drilling side, but that there is always room for more time to be spent on health and safety.

“Drilling is an interesting career” comments Ivor, adding “because I have found in my time no matter how much experience you have gained there are always new challenges ahead.”   The sector has much to offer but Ivor warns that new recruits should be prepared to work hard, be completely honest with their drilling / testing, and be capable of working long hours and all-weather conditions.

Looking ahead, Ivor can see himself carrying on as manager of well drilling as it is interesting and rewarding to get clients a sufficient supply of clean water. He is humbled on receiving the BDA award and is confident the drilling industry will go forward with the BDA continuing to provide the guidance it has been giving to sector over the years past.

Jointly receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was Paul Mellon, Geotechnical Manager, Transport Scotland. Paul describes his career path as a “bit of a zig-zag”. After gaining a degree in pure geology at Queen’s University Belfast, Paul went in 1979 to Hatfield Polytechnic to do a research project on overseas road aggregates sponsored by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory – his introduction to the world of engineering.

After a short digression on a research project at Newcastle University, Paul joined engineering material consultants STATS Ltd [St Albans Testing Services] in 1984. His role focussed on investigations of engineering materials of all kinds but primarily structural concrete, and Paul commented “Coincidentally, I shared an office with the ground investigation team so got some experience of the frustrations involved!”

In 1986 Paul was transferred to STATS Scotland in East Kilbride and added lab management and quality roles to the materials investigations. Paul recognised the value of quality management as “not to enforce slavish adherence to rules but as a framework to manage the complexities of an industry where unquantifiable experience counts as much as quantifiable scientific and engineering knowledge.”

In 1990 Paul joined Glasgow City Council and, after a spell on construction R&D, he joined the Geotechnical Group undertaking ground investigations, foundation design and remediation of mineworkings for Council construction projects and regeneration schemes. Paul was assisted in the steep learning curve by supportive colleagues, backed up with key modules of Strathclyde University’s Geotechnical Engineering course. He became involved in digital data management, working with the British Geological Survey in their development of the 3D digital geological model of Glasgow.

Paul made a return to the private sector in 2007 with Halcrow, extending his experience into trunk road projects on the A9 and A77, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to the public sector in 2008 when he got the post with Transport Scotland as Geotechnical Manager. The focus of the post was the Forth Replacement Crossing, starting with the mainland and marine ground investigations, and continuing all the way through to its opening in 2017 as the Queensferry Crossing. Paul was also responsible for managing Transport Scotland’s framework contracts for geotechnical design certification and for ground investigation before retiring from Transport Scotland in 2021.

Through his career Paul has faced many challenges; specifically, he comments on making the transition from a pure Geologist to an Engineering Geologist saying “I’m definitely not a Geotechnical Engineer! Scientists and engineers look at the same issue from different viewpoints and can head off in different directions – but I hope I’ve been able to bring geological insights to better understanding engineering issues, leading to practical (and affordable) solutions.”

Career highlights include investigating the regeneration site that became the Commonwealth Games Arena, Velodrome and athlete’s village whilst at Glasgow City Council,  but topping the list has to be the Forth Replacement Crossing of which Paul comments “…having responsibility on behalf of the public for the geotechnical aspects of the ground investigations, the design phase and the construction phase, there were no disasters on my watch – down to a good team working for us!”  Indeed, throughout his career, Paul has been thankful for the help, collaboration, and general support he received from colleagues in all his workplaces and the external organisations he dealt with. “Couldn’t have done it without you guys!” he proclaims.

Like Ivor, Paul has seen much change in the sector, and comments: “Those of us who remember probing for mineshafts being done by a couple of guys with a sampler and rods with two railway sleepers for leverage will I hope agree with me that the industry has come a long way. Drilling has evolved from a craft – and a potentially dangerous one at that – to a much more professional industry, with important focus on health and safety, the technical requirements for producing quality information and the development of the skills and competence of operators. The BDA and its members have had a big hand to play in this, but I also recognise the role of clients, particularly big clients, and particularly public-sector clients in moving such developments forward.”  Paul hopes he has had a role as an informed client in enabling and encouraging such changes.

In terms of industry change, Paul would like to see: “More of the same! But from the client’s point of view, the industry should keep reminding itself what it is there for – not just to drill holes, but to provide quality information on the ground and its condition.”  He recognises these uncertain times as a challenge, with variability in prices and supply of materials as well as in volume of work being commissioned. Keeping abreast of IT may be a challenge – but there is also opportunity, focussing on what improves quality, or the service provided rather than IT for its own sake.

Paul is honoured to have received the Lifetime Achievement Award and hopes it reflects a positive approach to working with the industry and the BDA to move the industry forward.

Both Ivor and Paul are worthy winners with a legacy that will last well beyond their careers in helping support the drilling sector and showcasing its total professionalism.

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