Spring break-up: Why Canadian drilling operations slow down in spring

Thursday 2 June 2022

For most of us, springtime is the time of year when it becomes pleasant to work outside again. Yet for our colleagues at Brownline Canada, spring is the time to shift focus inward. Here’s how the Canadian seasons greatly impact the drilling industry, including our operations there.

After winter, ice and snow across western Canada start to melt. This affects certain roads, especially remote roads such as gravel logging roads and ice roads and bridges structured to run on frozen water surfaces. These critical access roads used to reach construction jobsites become unavailable. The ground under many roads thaws and the moisture makes the soil soft and muddy. Roads in muskeg areas become unfit to drive on. During this thaw, local municipalities as well as private road owners impose road restrictions: vehicles over a certain axle weight limit are banned from using many roads affected by the thaw. These restrictions are put in place to avoid road damage and accidents, as heavy vehicles might create potholes in the weakened roads. This results in making these roads more unsafe for everyone. For an industry that relies on heavy equipment like drill rigs and excavators to be moved around, these restrictions practically become full road bans.

This period, known in the Canadian drilling industry as “spring break-up” lasts from late March or early April to late May or early June, depending on the severity of the preceding winter. It affects the entire oil and gas industry on a yearly basis. To accommodate this interruption, most remote drilling projects in northern Alberta and British Columbia are planned from November through March at a time when the road conditions allow for heavy equipment to be hauled. Planning projects like this comes with a deadline: projects not completed before the thaw sets in have to lay dormant for months until the next winter comes around and makes resuming the work possible.

For Brownline Canada, “spring break-up” means fewer projects in the north and a slight increase in projects in the south, as well as other parts of the country. This slower period is also used to catch up on paperwork, to maintain and repair equipment and to travel to visit clients. Drill crews often plan their vacation time during the “spring break-up” period.

In conclusion, “spring break-up” shows how the change of the seasons can have a massive impact on our operations in Canada. Outside of the Canadian drilling industry, this phenomenon may be hardly known though. This is why a perspective like this hopefully informs and interests our colleagues and clients all around the world.

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