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SubSea drill earns awards


MARL Technologies Inc was presented with the Project Achievement Award at the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta's (APEGA) Summit Awards gala April 19, for the MARL SubSea Drill.

The award is presented to a project demonstrating engineering or geoscience skills and representing a substantial contribution to technical progress and the betterment of society.

Company founder and owner Ron Innes said, "I'm pleased the hard work and years of development that went into this drill has been recognized by APEGA. This drill is an accomplishment we are proud of, and I'm very proud of the MARL team for persevering through the many challenges we faced."

In 2008, Gregg Drilling and Testing Inc. of Signal Hill, CA, approached MARL Technologies Inc. (MTI) to build a sea-bottom drill capable of conducting geotechnical and mineral investigations and core sampling. One of Gregg's key requirements was the drill had to combine proven subsea components with the best terrestrial drilling technologies.

In 2011, three years after starting the project, MTI delivered to Gregg the MARL SubSea Drill, a submersible offshore drill for geologic and geotechnical investigations, mineral exploration, and scientific research. The drill revolutionizes offshore subsea drilling with its ability to efficiently obtain core samples at depths in sea water as great as 3,000 metres. This places the drill in the ultra-deep water class of subsea operations. It achieves this by building on terrestrial drilling and sampling technologies developed in Alberta by MTI and its sister company, Mobile Augers and Research Ltd., over the past five decades, and adapting them for harsh marine conditions.

This challenging project required the expertise and management of MTI professionals to refine Gregg's vision and operational specifications, engineer solutions to meet those requirements, oversee construction and testing, hand over the drill, and provide post-delivery engineering support. This was all provided from MTI's facilities in Edmonton. Instrumental to the success of the project was the combination of Gregg's vision, MTI's Professional Engineers, Engineers-in-Training, trades peoples and staff, and many Alberta-based suppliers.

Since the drill can be operated in water pressure exceeding 4,000 psi, all drill functions must be controlled from a remote operator station on the ship above the drill. Existing subsea robotic arm technology was adapted to perform the key functions of pipe and tooling handling. To increase handling efficiency, a unique platform for the arm was designed to allow for an additional axis of motion. This marked the first time a high-functioning robotic arm was used on a sea-bottom coring drill.

Onshore drilling is under continuous pressure to provide safer drills to reduce hazards to drill crews. Automation, and the use of robotics, has the potential to reduce drilling hazards and may also reduce the amount of labour needed for drilling operations, a consideration with regard to labour shortages. Integration of offshore technology with traditional terrestrial drilling techniques will help achieve these aims.

The MARL SubSea Drill makes core sample acquisition from difficult sites easier, and provides access to sites that were previously impossible to reach. This is important to traditional energy exploration and development, alternative energy development, mineral exploration, scientific research, and geotechnical hazard mitigation. Sea trials were conducted in the Jervis Inlet, northwest of Vancouver, BC, and the first version of the drill is currently operating off the coast of Australia.

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