ALLOA Athletic chairman Mike Mulraney is planning to plough a “major investment” into a specialist drilling firm after securing more than 30 jobs at the company, which had been at risk of being wound down.
The entrepreneur’s Mulraney Group, which also has interests in commercial and residential property, decided to step in and buy Alloa-based GeoSonic Drilling to prevent the business being transferred overseas, and he said business since the deal has beaten his forecasts.
GeoSonic was sold by US drilling giant Boart Longyear, and Mulraney acquired the firm after clinching a vital £1 million funding package with Clydesdale Bank.
Mulraney said: “Boart Longyear is the market leader in a technology called sonic drilling, but it wasn’t a big thing for them in Europe. For us, it’s massive.
“We were up against companies that were going to shut it down and move all the plant out to Australia.”
Sonic drilling uses high-frequency vibrations, and Mulraney said the technology is quicker and more environmentally friendly than traditional methods because it can eliminate the need for chemicals, which are often used to cool standard drill bits.
“We can drill through anything because we use sonic waves instead of traditional drill bits, and almost no waste comes out the ground.”
Having snapped up Geo-Sonic, which employs 35 people, Mulraney has ordered two additional drilling rigs, at a cost of £650,000 each, and expects the firm’s headcount to grow to more than 50 within two years.
However, the specialist nature of the work makes it difficult to bring experienced drillers straight into the business, so the firm plans to take on apprentices as well as train those from elsewhere in the industry.
“We’re also looking to make a major investment in research and development over the next 12 months,” Mulraney added.
Most of the company’s work comes from England, France and elsewhere in Europe, and Mulraney said it is the “driller of choice” for the nuclear industry.
The burgeoning shale sector could also give GeoSonic a boost, although it would not be involved in “fracking”, which uses high-pressure chemicals to fracture rocks and release natural gas.
Mulraney said: “It is a sector we could work with, as we can prepare the drill holes to the first 30 or 50 metres.”
Although Utah-based Boart Longyear decided to pull out of the sonic drilling industry in Europe, GeoSonic has a long-term relationship with its former parent to carry out work in the region.
Boart last month suffered a credit rating downgrade from Standard & Poor’s, which said the group faces “reduced exploration drilling budgets of major mining companies”, but Mulraney said trading at GeoSonic has “exceeded our expectations”. Turnover for the current year is predicted to top £5m.
“The biggest thing for us was the support from Clydesdale, not only in trying to understand the market we were entering, but doing so in the timeframe we needed,” he said. “Their staff were literally working through the weekend to get the deal done. If they didn’t do that, we would have lost this industry to Scotland.”