By Pat Rediger
Before they joined forces to create the company Team Drilling in 2008, Al Lamy, George Presseault, Robert Fleming and Sylvain Brisson each had over 20 years of direct experience working for major companies in the drilling industry. They had a vision to lead their own venture.
Thanks to a strategic partnership with Athabasca Basin Development, these men were able to turn their dream into a reality. The Athabasca Basin is a region in the Canadian Shield of northern Saskatchewan and Alberta that contains the world's leading source of high-grade uranium (currently supplying around 20 per cent of the world's demand).
Athabasca Basin Development is an Aboriginal-owned investment company committed to building and investing in successful businesses that are creating work opportunities in the region. Recently, Team Drilling purchased the assets of another Saskatchewan-based diamond drilling company and brought the former owner Glen Sigstad on as a partner with the company.
“When we started in the business world we found it was quite important to make sure we partnered with Aboriginal companies,” Fleming said. “Athabasca Basin’s investment provided us with the opportunity to go out and procure equipment to get involved in the drilling industry right off the bat. We were able to get our first drilling contract in northern Saskatchewan in 2008 for a junior mining company. We were fortunate that the drilling results were very good and the following year the client requested that we go back with additional drills. We had the opportunity to purchase more equipment to service their needs.”
Fleming noted that while the company’s partnership with Athabasca Basin Development may have provided the necessary start-up funds, the benefits have quickly expanded to the Aboriginal communities in northern Saskatchewan.
Athabasca Basin Development is owned by the seven communities in the Athabasca area, including Hatchet Lake, Black Lake, Fond du Lac First Nation, Stony Rapids, Wollaston Lake, Uranium City and Camsell Portage, providing an efficient way to partner with these local communities in one of the world’s premier mining and exploration districts. With Athabasca Basin Development owning 50 per cent of the Team Drilling operation, there are many benefits that flow back to these communities. Team Drilling also utilizes upwards of 50 per cent Indigenous workers on a number of projects it works on in northern Saskatchewan.
“It’s very rewarding to work with Aboriginal communities,” Fleming said. “We believe strongly in hiring workers from the areas we’re working in, because it creates higher rates of employment, helps support families and builds stronger communities. We’re starting to work a lot closer with the communities themselves where we see benefits in employment. In Black Lake, for instance, we have a liaison who will send us resumes of people we can interview. There are also facilities up there that are looking at providing training so we can train our staff on site instead of bringing employees to our facility in Saskatoon.”
Team Drilling offers mineral exploration services to groups ranging from junior mining companies to major operations. Team Drilling provides core samples from the exploration point, and then the clients can analyze it and decide if there’s need for a mine or further underground or surface drilling.
The company’s flagship project has been working at Cameco’s Cigar Lake site, the world's highest grade uranium mine. Team Drilling has been assisting with a mining technique called jet boring, where the ore and surrounding rock is frozen. Brine, chilled to -40C, is piped underground to the deposit. Fleming said that since Team Drilling was awarded a contract for the project in 2011, it has focused on streamlining the process and has decreased its number of drills from five to three while still meeting deadlines.
Team Drilling has also been operating four drills on SSR Mining Inc.’s Seabee gold mining operation, 125 kilometres northeast of La Ronge. The company has recently begun a $90 million expansion that it hopes will boost production, cut operating costs and extend the operation’s lifespan into the mid-2020s. It also provides drilling services for many exploration projects operated by Orano Canada Inc., another Saskatchewan based mining company.
Fleming said that working in northern Saskatchewan provides some interesting challenges. The company is often working underground in high water pressure zones and must operate with specialized equipment. For remote work, the company will fly its equipment out and move around drills with helicopters. The company has drilled on frozen lakes and drilled off barges in the summer.
These conditions make safety a major focus for Team Drilling. Fleming said “safety comes first in all activities” and the company continually assesses, investigates, evaluates and improves its safety systems, including investing in up-to-date safety equipment. The company has signed WorkSafe Saskatchewan’s Mission: Zero charter and the company’s drillers have numerous safety certifications.
“We believe safety starts with the people who make up our team,” Fleming said, “Fostering and encouraging a culture of safety, where safety is a part of every process, is paramount to achieving a zero incidence record.”
Team Drilling is also committed to not disturbing the environments it works in. The company complies with applicable environmental laws and includes environmental considerations as an integral part of its planning process.
“As a responsible corporate citizen, we consider ourselves to be an environmentally-friendly company, and as such, we are committed to minimizing the impact of our activities on the environment while managing our operations economically, safely and efficiently,” Fleming said.
Team Drilling has had the opportunity to manage projects outside of northern Saskatchewan, including a diamond mine in the North West Territories. The company also operated six drills for the Rio Tinto Iron Ore group in Labrador. Fleming said the company has been receiving requests to provide tenders throughout all of the province and territories and has also been exploring overseas projects.
While Team Drilling is exploring projects away from home, it’s clear that the company doesn’t need to dig further than northern Saskatchewan to strike gold.
“Each of us came from different areas when we started the company. Some of us were born and raised in Saskatchewan,” Fleming said.
“We had all experienced numerous areas while working throughout Canada and overseas. We were very familiar with Saskatchewan and its business environment. Since it had always been successful for us, we decided to establish our base here. We’re now into our 10th year of business and we feel that it’s been quite a rewarding experience working in Saskatchewan.”