BDA Spring Conference 2024 – Sector Growth Opportunities for 2024 and Beyond – Reviewed

May 15, 2024

The British Drilling Association (BDA) successfully convened its Annual General Meeting and Spring Conference on 9th May 2024, at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster, London. This year’s theme, “Sector Growth Opportunities for 2024 and Beyond,” attracted a diverse group of industry leaders, experts, and stakeholders, each contributing to a comprehensive dialogue on the evolution and future direction of the drilling industry.

Following an introduction from Richard Fielden, Director of the BDA, the conference kicked off with a presentation from the BDA’s recent past Chair, Paul McMann, who handed over to the new Chair Mark Toye, both spoke of the achievements, ambitions and vision of the BDA. Specifically how from 2022 to 2024, the association has made significant strides toward its strategic goals, achieving financial breakeven and boosting member involvement. Notable achievements include the development of schemes to address skills shortages, increased mental health awareness in the industry, and the updating of BDA documents. The association also saw growth in client memberships and audit numbers, re-established seminars and social events, and published a strategic plan to guide future activities. These efforts underscore the BDA’s commitment to enhancing health, safety, and technical proficiency across the drilling sector.

The new Chair, Mark, then spoke about the Associations plans, challenges and ambitions for the next two years, including: stagnation shifting to growth, falling prices, long-term labour pressures, investor caution, an ever-complex environment and the procurement predicament.

Mark’s plans for the BDA, with particular focus on technical and standards, include,

  • Looking for the BDA to have a greater influence on the overall geotechnical sector
  • Increased client body membership of the BDA
  • Working to increased driller audit numbers and member compliance
  • Increased sustainability focus

Next to take to the stage, delivering an insightful keynote address, was Tim Chapman, of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), who provided a thorough analysis of the current trends in the energy sector. Chapman discussed the rapid transition towards renewable energy sources, underlining the role of governmental policies and investments in shaping the market landscape. His presentation highlighted key areas of growth, including the potential increase in projects involving carbon capture and storage and the expansion of hydrogen as a fuel source. Chapman’s detailed exploration of sector-specific developments offered participants a nuanced understanding of the opportunities these transformations could present for drilling professionals.

Dr. Michael Kehinde, from the Environment Agency, followed, with a focused discussion on groundwater management and its regulatory environment. Dr. Kehinde’s presentation detailed the Agency’s use of advanced monitoring networks and data-driven approaches to manage water resources sustainably. He also elaborated on the recent updates to groundwater investigation consents and the impact of these changes on drilling operations. His session emphasised the importance of maintaining ecological balance while supporting economic development, providing a blueprint for future projects that align with both environmental and business objectives.

Joanne Eynon, of the Coal Authority offered an in-depth look at the innovative use of old mining infrastructure to support renewable energy projects. She explained how mine water, often seen as a liability, is being transformed into a valuable heat source through mine water heat schemes. Eynon detailed the process of securing access agreements, the technical challenges involved, and the regulatory framework that supports these initiatives. Her presentation was a compelling case study on repurposing existing structures for new uses, reflecting a broader theme of innovation in sustainability that resonated throughout the conference.

Mohit Farmah and Mark Boulton, of Thames Water Strategic Resource Options (SRO) Portfolio, presented after the Coal Authority. Their talk provided a detailed update on the SRO projects currently being explored by Thames Water, which have a combined CAPEX value in excess of £5bn. These projects include the development of a new reservoir in Oxfordshire and the enhancement of existing water treatment facilities. Farmah noted the critical role of drilling services in these large-scale infrastructure projects and discussed the implications for the drilling industry in terms of demand and skills requirements.

Additionally, they touched upon the wider Thames Water requirements, noting that AMP8 is expected to be approximately twice the size of AMP7, presenting numerous opportunities for industry members. They also highlighted the existing GI Framework expires in 2026, signalling further upcoming opportunities for BDA members. Farmah’s presentation was particularly useful for attendees looking to align their operations with the needs of major water management projects.

Next up was Catherine McGrath, of National Highways, who spoke about changes to the framework, for the ‘Delivery and Procurement for GI in the Roads Sector’ and the work that National Highways had been doing over the past years to make it more relevant and amenable to the GI industry. She spoke about adapting the framework following feedback from BDA members, so it is more accessible. Catherine also discussed how important it is to collaborate with suppliers (GI contractors) and to work in partnership rather than in a strict client/supplier relationship. How National Highways want their framework to be accessible to SME’s rather than just tier 1 contractors was also explained as she acknowledged it is usually the SMEs doing the majority of the work. She concluded by stating that Highways will look to set up consultation meetings to inform the sector in the near future.

Geoff Ellison from the Ground Source Heat Pump Association (GSHPA) addressed the expanding market for ground source heat pumps and the critical role of drilling in this sector. Ellison detailed various system designs, from open-loop systems that interact with groundwater to closed-loop systems that circulate a refrigerant. His talk covered the technological advancements in heat pump systems, the regulatory challenges, and the potential for growth in both residential and commercial markets. Ellison’s session provided practical insights into how drilling operations can tap into the renewable energy sector, emphasising adaptation and compliance with evolving environmental standards.

The day concluded with networking, which provided the opportunity for knowledge exchange, with a focus on future collaboration.

The BDA’s Spring Conference served as a platform for industry professionals to gain insights into the technological, regulatory, and market trends shaping the future of drilling. The presentations and discussions highlighted the industry’s readiness to adapt to a changing global landscape, emphasising innovation, sustainability, and strategic growth. The conference not only provided a comprehensive overview of the industry’s current state but also charted a path forward for embracing new opportunities in the coming years.

A big thank you to our exhibitors for supporting this event!

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