As awareness surrounding ethics and sustainability increases scrutiny across every industry, Senegalese mining contractor MDESS (Millennium Drilling and Equipment Services Senegal) is working to own that conversation. MDESS wants to put as much back into the earth as it takes out with a range of initiatives designed to preserve the wellbeing of its workers and their working environments.
Managing Director of MDESS Francis Billy Williams has made environmental practices and the safety of his workers – a top priority at his company. “The environmental side to what we do is of serious concern,” he explains from his Senegal office.
One area of sustainable work Williams is tapping into pertains to the rehabilitation of existing water wells in the region. A massive 75% of Africa’s water comes from groundwater drilling, after a significant increase in water well/boreholes over the past 30 years. It is an area that MDESS is most active in.
“There are a lot of companies here and everybody is just drilling, drilling, drilling, and that represents a lot of drilled wells in need of rehabilitation,” says Williams. “There is a village in Ghana where there have been 10 wells drilled and it was totally unnecessary. Why do we drill new ones, when there are already 10 wells in the village? Why do you add more? Why don't you build roads and schools with that money instead? All the existing water wells can be used if they’re rehabilitated. You wouldn’t buy a new car just because your engine is smoking. You have to get the thing running again. These are things I'm seeing around a lot of the countries, where we’re just drilling the holes and leaving the holes behind; holes that can rehabilitated. I have a program for rehabilitation that I'm going to put into action very soon.”
Water well maintenance programmes, in line with NGO support, have a number of aims including the improvement and maintenance of well performance as well as lengthening the overall lifespan of the well and its assets. Such work can also reduce operational costs as well as eliminating the risk associated with well transfer. The quality of both the water and the well improve as a result of these initiatives. A successful rehabilitation of a well will decrease the drawdown, lower energy costs and increase the pump life resulting in the raising of efficiencies and quality of water. “We have always been in close proximity with environmental groups, making sure we don't spill oil and that we keep our sites clean and safe and that we have all our papers in place.”
MDESS is a contractor of personnel, equipment, transportation and logistical support to a number of global businesses such as Grand Côte Operations. MDESS enjoys good relationships with its numerous partners, including Grande Côte. GCO’s mineral sands operation is the largest single dredge mineral sands operation in the world and is managed by an experienced team, positioned on a coastal, mobile dune system approximately 50km north-east of Dakar in Senegal, home to Africa’s largest international shipping port. GCO will primarily produce high-quality zircon and ilmenite as well as small amounts of rutile and leucoxene. The operations comprise a dredge, a wet concentrator plant (WCP), a mineral separation plant (MSP), rail, port facilities and a power station.
“We are working for GCO, where we are doing some continent bore drilling. We have 15 wells drilled, and we are almost finished. We have 10 more to come after,” says Williams. “I have a very good working relationship with GCO, Bauer and another company in Senegal called Midas, which I own. I have my own drilling company that I brought to Senegal, working in the same mine as them. We're all heading towards the same goal. It's all friendly; the guys there were trained by me.”
To foster such valuable partnerships, MDESS has made a pledge not to compromise on quality or safety. “We ensure our workers wear the appropriate PCE for the work we're doing, especially when it comes to welding; in case our welders aren't wearing the demanded kit,” Williams explains. “So, I think we have always been on the right track there with regards to safety concerns.”
Safety is a paramount issue for Williams, who has 37 years of experience under his belt. Williams’ record of achieving the highest safety standards stretches back to his days working at the Newmont Gold Mines in Ghana, and more recently with Bauer. “You have to go through a lot of safety formations, because their priority was safety,” Williams explains. “95% of the whole program was safety. Newmont had a highly precise code when it came to safety because of the nature of the drilling that was being done by them. They wanted everybody to come back safe and sound. Newmont had very high expectations and everybody was being trained extensively on safety issues. We worked for about four years without any incidents, which resulted in end-of-month safety bonuses too.”
MDESS stakes its reputation on providing the best and safest equipment to mining operations and any piece of kit is only as safe as the person operating it. Williams has placed a strong emphasis on staff training at MDESS to reduce any potential risks as much as humanly possible. Williams is also looking at launching a drilling school in a bid to try and raise standards in the field.
“When it comes to equipment, I believe in working with the best. I worked for Bauer who had some of the best equipment in well mining. The safety standards were at a high standard. The equipment was constantly tested, changed and overhauled and special training was implemented on how to use these tools correctly and safely. Most of the drilling we see in the villages is very poor,” he explains. “The workers are without PCE, and I'm sorry to say that Indian companies are drilling without even slippers on their feet. No helmet. This is not accepted in our field.
“There should be a type of organisation that lets them know how to protect their workers. I am working with a friend of mine in Germany to see if we can set up a drilling school in Senegal, to teach the guys exactly what to do when it comes to drilling. It’s that important. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?”