High tech tools for precise surveying

The mining industry has a problem. How do you figure out exactly what is underground before you go to the trouble of digging it up? Icefield Tools Corp.

The mining industry has a problem. How do you figure out exactly what is underground before you go to the trouble of digging it up?

Icefield Tools Corp., a Whitehorse-based company, delivers very specific technology to help answer that question.

Borehole drilling is a common method for mineral exploration. You drill down into the ground, pull out samples, and have a look at what’s inside.

It’s simple in theory, but imprecise in practice.

That’s because when you attempt to drill straight down, the hole does not end up perfectly straight.

Because of different hardness and densities of layers of rock, the drill hole will tend to curl slightly as it descends.

Deviations of 15 per cent are common, said Emmanuel Potvin, an engineer with Icefield Tools.

That means that if you dig 300 metres down, the lower end of the hole might be 45 metres in any direction from where you started.

That’s a big difference, when you’re trying to develop a very precise map of mineral resources underground.

It’s a problem that prospectors have been trying to solve for nearly a century, said Potvin.

“Some of the earlier technologies, they’d put acid inside of a glass vial and you’d sit there for a while and etch a line into the glass tube, and you could tell what inclination the hole is at.”

When it comes to the oil and gas industry, knowing exactly where your drill has ended up is perhaps even more crucial.

Many oil and gas operations these days use directional drilling – meaning that the direction of the hole changes.

For example, a hole might go down several hundred metres and then turn and continue horizontally to better access oil and gas reserves in a stratum of rock.

You have to know where your drill is in order to send it where you want it to go, said Potvin.

And that’s where Icefield Tools comes in.

Their tools are essentially probes with sensors in them that can be lowered into boreholes. Measurements are taken at regular intervals, and the resulting data allows surveyors to figure out exactly where the drill actually went, as opposed to where it was supposed to go.

There’s a lot of tech packed into the one-metre long, 2.5-centimetre wide probes.

Inside the Gyro Shot, Icefield’s top-of-the-line tool, there is a gyroscopic sensor that measures the rotation of the instrument, an accelerometer that measures the angle, a magnetometer that works like an electronic compass, and a computer processing unit that controls everything and collects the data.

A significant portion of the length is taken up by the six AA batteries that power the whole thing.

The company also offers a variety of casings and running gear that allow the tool to be used for different applications. For example, a pressure barrel protects the instrument at high pressures found deep underground. Or, a centralizer will make sure that the tool rests in the centre of the borehole, rather than resting to one side.

After pulling the tool back out of the hole, the data can be downloaded and interpreted.

Soon, Icefield hopes to offer real-time data, so that the position of the tool can be seen above-ground as the measurements are being taken.

Time is money in the exploration business, especially here in the North where the season is short.

And for oil and gas operations, the technology will allow quicker decision-making when the direction of the drilling needs to change.

The Yukon Research Centre’s cold climate innovation program has partnered with Icefield Tools to make this a reality.

Three additional pieces of technology are required to make this happen, said Potvin.

There must be a piece of equipment attached to the tool itself, which will help communicate to the surface. That data would be then wired to an electronic box up top, which would collect and interpret the data. Finally, there would have to be a user interface with computer software allowing prospectors to see what is happening below the surface in real time.

The prototype is expected to be ready for testing in January of 2014, and presented to the public in the spring.

Icefield Tools already serves customers in the United States, South America, the Middle East and beyond, said Potvin.

It is the company’s hope that the addition of real-time technology will expand its reach further, especially in the oil and gas sector, he said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3-hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council will vote on the second reading of the Official Community Plan amendment on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Future area of Whistle Bend considered by council

Members set to vote on second reading for OCP change

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read