“I founded Geodrill almost 25 years ago in Ghana with one rig and one contract and steadily grew the company. It was a pretty simple business model based on the careful selection of safety conscious and service-orientated personnel, a commitment to a well-maintained fleet of drills and providing the full gamut of exploration drilling services,” Geodrill’s president and CEO David Harper tells RGN. But above all else, Geodrill’s story has been defined by an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction, no matter how major or minor the client is, he continues. Today, the multi-purpose drilling services provider focuses predominantly on the African market, having grown out of its natural home in Ghana into neighbouring Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, as well as Egypt in North Africa. More recently, Geodrill expanded into a new continent – South America – with a subsidiary company established in Peru last year. “We currently operate 70 drills. We drill about 1.5 million metres a year, making us the 7th largest driller by metreage in the world. And we provide about 1,000 career opportunities to the communities in which we operate.”
After a sustained period of rig growth and expansion into new markets in West Africa in the decade after the new millennium, Geodrill listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) in 2010, with Harper citing the size of the market and the appetite of its investors for the mining industry.
“TSX investors were very receptive when we were considering the IPO route over a decade ago. They’ve always understood mining and they understand mining derivatives such as drilling and the services industry,” he says.
Multi-purpose drill fleet
Throughout its existence, Geodrill has consistently invested in a vast array of modern equipment in order to supply its clients with a ‘one-stop’ drilling solution. The company’s expansive drill services include reverse circulation (RC), diamond core, deep directional navi drilling, air core ((AC) a popular method used by junior explorers in early stage exploration), grade control, geo-tech and water borehole drilling.
Geodrill’s multi-purpose fleet provides its clients with a high level of versatility at the mine site. For instance, the ability to switch between RC and diamond core drills midway through a drill hole – with minimal effort or down time – eliminates the customer’s need to have two rig types on site, therefore improving overall efficiency and lowering the all-in average cost per metre.
“Our customers are major, intermediate and junior mining companies and we operate on the surface and underground [since 2017]. It’s about providing the full gamut and being able to get it all under one roof in the Geodrill brand,” Harper explains.
The hub and spoke model
In Africa, Geodrill follows a ‘hub and spoke’ operational model, with Ghana operating as the hub. “Here in Ghana, we operate a 35 acre facility. Within that facility, there is a world-class workshop for maintaining the drills. We also have a HSE training facility and drill training academy for developing our young talent.”
Harper is told by Geodrill’s suppliers and industry peers that the facility is the largest and most comprehensive operations base of any drilling company in the world. “I have visited most our competitors and I would say this is a correct statement,” he says.
The Kumasi-based operating hub also holds a US$25 million inventory of critical spare parts and consumables to keep the rigs ‘turning, churning and earning’, across West and North Africa. In addition, there is a CNC engineering plant at the facility, which enables Geodrill to make its own drill rods and spares.
“We’ve even started making our own drill rigs. This facility is an operational centre of excellence,” Harper exclaims. “There’s nothing like it in West Africa; and this is what gives us our mechanical advantage.”
As a result, Geodrill’s outlier operations on the continent simply do not need facilities of the same scale, with operations in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Egypt acting as the spokes revolving around the Ghana hub. Nevertheless, these smaller bases are still replete with comprehensive support equipment and services.
This interwoven model means Geodrill can quickly mobilise the relevant equipment or service to any client across West and North Africa, including for the largest players in the gold space. Barrick Gold, Kinross Gold Corp, Gold Fields and Newmont Corporation all lean on Geodrill’s drilling expertise, along with a plethora of Africa-focused mid-tier producers, including Endeavour Mining, Centamin, Golden Star Resources, Perseus Mining and West African Resources.
Not forgetting the junior sector, Harper highlights his company’s work with the likes of AIM-listed IronRidge Resources, ASX firm Mako Gold and TSXV issuers Roscan Gold, Newcore Gold and African Gold Group.
Embedded ESG values
ESG has developed into the leading buzzword for the sector in recent years, as companies look to impress a growing legion of institutional and general investors focused on issues such as the carbon footprint of the mining industry and the social wellbeing of communities affected by mineral extraction around the world.
However, the core principles ensconced in the ESG thematic (environmental, social and corporate governance) are by no means new to a company like Geodrill, which has been acutely conscious of its corporate social responsibilities from the get-go.
“ESG has gone from a situation of being ‘nice to have’ to companies being mandated to come up with various KPIs to explain in an auditable and tangible fashion what exactly they are doing about this very important subject. Whereas for us, it’s business as normal. We’ve always believed in doing what is right not just what is required.
“At the very core of our vision and values, there has always been a very strong commitment to the communities and the environment in which we operate,” Harper recounts. “This means operating to the highest HSEQ standards with transparency and accountability with all of our stakeholders.”
Geodrill is also an equal opportunities employer and a proud advocate for gender diversity inclusion across all its business units. In addition, Harper tells RGN that providing ‘career opportunities’ is the single biggest way in which a company can positively impact any community it works in. This is particularly the case in the parts of Africa where Geodrill continues to operate in.
By way of example, Harper describes the story of a young drilling upstart who joined the company around the same time as the current CEO. He started off working as a ‘drill helper’, but after some time and tuition he became a driller. After 17 years in the role, he became a supervisor and then a manager.
“This case shows there is a clear path to success that empowers our employees. It enables them to go from a low-skilled to semi-skilled and eventually a highly-skilled employee. It’s a matter of fact that some of our employees are operating in Australia, teaching Australians how to drill. It’s been a success story in that regard.”
Health, safety and education
This is just one example of Geodrill’s multitude of investments in local talent throughout its history. The company’s other commitments to community engagement are heavily themed towards the three pillars of health, safety and education.
In the area of community health, Geodrill has funded infant open heart surgeries for the past 15 years and often considers ad-hoc cases, such as the one of a little girl born with cancer in both eyes. Geodrill paid for the family’s travel to India, where she was fitted with prosthetic eyes. The costs of the procedure were also covered by the company.
“In education we have made numerous donations to schools. For example, in the recent semester we donated to three major schools to refurbish their science labs and we see this as a key area where we can really make a difference.”
Elsewhere, there wouldn’t be too many communities where Geodrill operates where it hasn’t provided water wells. The firm has also built shelters for victims of domestic abuse, supported orphanages and rising sports starts.
“The Ghana boxing team recently won the Olympic bronze medal in Japan just a couple weeks ago. We’ve always been huge supporters of the Ghana boxing team. I would encourage anyone to visit the ESG section of our website to see what I’m talking about when I say we allow our actions to speak louder than our words,” Harper declares.
These sustained ESG efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2020, the company won the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group (AAMEG) ESG award for the best workforce and industry development. And in July 2021, Geodrill won the prestigious Millennium Excellence Award for Mining and Exploration.
Harper explains that Millennium Excellence is the highest award that can be bestowed in Ghana. This year, Geodrill’s boss happens to be a fellow laureate with the current President of the Republic of Ghana; Nana Akufo-Addo.
A sustainable future
As a company that believes in doing what is right, Geodrill will continue to spend around 2% of its revenues on ESG initiatives. After posting significantly improved financial results in 2020, and with 2021 set to be another ‘bonanza year’ according to Harper, this commitment to corporate care looks to be significant one.
In the first two quarters of the year, Geodrill has reported 70% and 47% year-on-year improvements in revenue, on the coat tails of a strong commodity price run not just confined to gold. “Plans are afoot to improve our geographical footprint and commodity mix, hence the expansion into South America, where we are currently drilling for one of the EV [electric vehicle] metals.
“Mining is a cyclical business; we go from feast to famine every five years and have just come out of a very long downcycle. I think we have four or five good years ahead of us and Geodrill intends to benefit in that upcycle.”