Rescuing miners stuck over half a kilometre underground wasn’t something covered in any of the classes Kevin Neveu, ’82 BSc(Eng), took at the U of A. And although his team didn’t actually perform the dramatic rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners watched live by millions around the world in October 2010, they were close.
The Precision Drilling rig—set up near the original mine shaft—which drilled down to about 30 metres from the trapped miners.
Neveu is CEO of Calgary-based Precision Drilling, which had an oil and gas rig in the Copiapó, Chile, region near where the San Jose mine collapsed on August 5, 2010. Seventeen days later the 33 trapped miners were found alive and Chilean authorities quickly contacted the company to see if the rig was available to help in rescue efforts. Three companies, including Precision Drilling, using different types of rigs were recruited to work on the rescue simultaneously. A drill owned by the Chilean mining company GeoTech reached the miners first, hauling the very grateful men out of the ground.
The Precision Drilling plan was, says Neveu, “probably the lowest-risk solution of the three. We were providing an elevator shaft, a steel-cased shaft from the mine to the surface with virtually no risk of failure.”
In that respect, the challenge was no different from any other drilling job, Neveu says, adding that neither the company nor its drilling team allowed emotions to get the better of them.
“It is easy to get caught up in the exuberance,” he says. “It would have been easy to rush this rig and get it down there before it was ready. But I wanted to make sure we treated this as a business decision, as an executional challenge no tougher or easier, no more or less important than anything else we do.”
Neveu stood less than two metres from the rescue shaft as several of the miners were brought to the surface and says he was reminded of a similar event 40 years ago. “Apollo 13 is probably the closest comparison I can make. Like everyone else watching, you have a strong sense of relief — you have all those emotions — you are astonished to see them come out of the ground.
“I am really proud of our guys who worked 12-hour days for six weeks,” he continues. “I was just happy to be out there with our guys and share with them the congratulations we had from the minister of mines and the president’s wife.”