The Éléonore mine is located near James Bay, in the Nord-du-Québec/Eeyou Istchee region. With a large-scale gold-bearing deposit, it is considered one of the most promising operations in North America. Even more significantly, it ranks amongst the leaders in a new generation of state-of-the-art mines: technology-driven, plugged into the latest trends and, above all, safe.
Located under a huge artificial water basin connected to the La Grande hydroelectric complex called the Opinaca Reservoir, the Éléonore deposit is found throughout a large network of underground water faults. Faced with the presence of many underground water veins, the teams had to adapt and innovate to find effective solutions to the permanent water problem. According to Tony Brisson, Director of Exploration at Éléonore, "Intercepting so many water veins at such high pressure during drilling is unprecedented!"
Meeting the underground water challenge
"We encounter many water veins reaching pressures that can range from 200 to 900 PSI,” explains Christine Beausoleil, Chief Geologist at Éléonore. “Given such high pressures, it becomes extremely risky, even impossible, to drill. It's just too dangerous. We had to learn to deal with the underground water problem and find permanent solutions to continue operations under safe conditions."
Diamond drilling is performed according to a precise plan to collect rock "core" samples for metallurgical analysis. Once the drilling step is completed, drillers must recover the hundred-pound steel tube containing the core. When this operation is performed in the presence of powerful water veins, there is a very high risk that the core tube will be violently ejected, projecting it like a missile, and representing a real hazard for the workers. "A projectile propelled at such high pressure can cause serious harm for people and property," explains Alain Trudel, Éléonore’s Health and Safety Coordinator.
Intervening before an accident happens
Determined to intervene before any accident with injuries occurred, Éléonore and their partner, Machines Roger Internationales (MRI), worked together to address this hazardous situation. Together, they designed a solution to control the ejection velocity of drilling tubes subjected to water pressure.
A committee comprised of employees, geologists, health and safety specialists, foremen and drillers was formed. "The committee members first inquired throughout the industry, looking for similar cases and petitioned drill manufacturers for suggestions, but found no suitable solutions," explains Christian St-Amour, Director of Operations for MRI. “They then generated ideas, developed prototypes, and performed all kinds of tests and trials until they designed a braking device, commonly known as the brake tube.”
Efficient, safe, and easy to use, the brake tube is a tube equipped with a clamping device ("jaws") slipped onto the drill rod and screwed tight. Once the device is installed, the driller tightens the jaw nut, exerting the necessary pressure to hold the tube and prevent its ejection. This simple method controls the core tube’s ejection velocity.
"We created a new tool. Then we established a procedure allowing its safe use. This lets us drill through water veins that were previously impassable and safely achieve our drilling objectives," adds Beausoleil. Since its implementation, incidents related to tube ejections have dropped to zero!
Working together for a common goal: safety
"I believe the highest efficiency and safety objectives are achieved when the employees are involved in processes that lead to innovation," affirms Brisson.
By relying on the expertise of its employees and its partners, and investing in the necessary human and material resources to encourage initiative and innovative thinking, Éléonore is quickly establishing itself amongst the leaders in an evolving industry, putting people and their safety at the core of its activities.