Diamonds in Northwest Canada

Written May 2005 by

Robert Guy Williams

e-mail address rgwill@shaw.ca


Introduction

Diamonds, when cut and polished, are beautiful things. Specifically, diamonds mined in Canada are of special interest to me and the topic of this paper written to satisfy a requirement for an online gemstone course from Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas USA.

History

1. Geological

2. Geographical

3. Canadian Diamond Explorers

4. Success

5. Diamond Mining Impact on Canada

6. Bibliography

This image was taken from
Be My Scientific Valentine,
Canadian Diamonds,
www.whyfiles.org/149love/3.html.


1. Geological

Originally geologists thought that the diamonds formed as phenocrysts in igneous rock, and that they formed the same time as this kimberlite rock. However, when the rock and mineral were both dated with radioactive isotopes, it was learned that the kimberlites formed only a hundred million years ago, but that the diamonds themselves were 3.3 billion years old. These kimberlite pipes formed in the rift valleys in very ancient cratons; as the molten materials rise, they pluck the diamonds from the cratons. Diamonds form at extreme depths and pressure - below 120km with temperatures above 900°C and mostly above 1200°C. Disseminated graphite deposits may occur regionally in very deep metamorphic rocks, such as quartzite, gneiss, and marble. These rocks are very ancient - Archean, or Proterozoic in ages.

Not all kimberlites contain diamonds - it is believed that of the known 5000 or so pipes known in 1992 that only 50 or 60 contain sufficiently enough diamonds to make mining worth while. As the kimberlites rise towards the surface, they rise at varying rates - 5km per hour deeply, to several 100 km per hour near the surface. The original carbon in the diamonds is believed to come from two sources. The first is material that subducted at plate boundaries and the second is believed to be the carbon present when the earth formed!

For information on the formation of Canadian diamonds visit http://ekati.bhpbilliton.com/docs/TheHiddenStory.pdf, The Hidden Story.

2. Geographical

This image was taken from
Be My Scientific Valentine on Canadian Diamonds, www.whyfiles.org/149love/3.html.

In the past, only minor occurences of pipes were found in cratonic Canada. These finds were of little significance until Charles Fipke found an esker trail of indicator minerals in the area between Baker Lake, near Hudson Bay, and the MacKenzie river, a trail receding with glaciers. Earlier, John Gurney, of the University of Cape Town had found suggestions of the pipes on microscopic examinations in the Barren Lands. The Barren Lands refer to a terrain in northern Canada of bedrock with low vegetation and wetlands.

Although the prospector named Fipke sought diamonds in the Barren Lands of Canada, kimberlites, the host for diamonds, are found in Canadian provinces other than the Northwest Territories (NWT). For additional information, view this map of kimberlite pipes in all of Canada, from The Atlas of Canada, http://atlas.gc.ca/site/english/maps/economic/diamondexploration/locationofkimberlites, and read about these main exploration areas at http://atlas.gc.ca/site/english/maps/economic/diamondexploration/diamondexploration.



3. Canadian Diamond Explorers

In the early 1980's, Charles Fipke and Hugh Dummett, had been probing the area from Colorado to Western Canada. Fipke started at the MacKenzie river, and worked east, along the eskers, to see if there were any reason to work harder. From sampling the eskers, he found that a "kimberlite" trail extended eastward. Over a period of this tracking, Fipke and his friends, Dummett and Blusson eventually found more realistic possibilities. Near Lac de Gras, which is French for fat lake and named for an intrusion of whitish kyanite, he found grains of chromium diopside, G-10 garnet, and other diamond indicator minerals. There was great difficulty in raising enough money for adequate exploration. In April of 1990, while Blusson was flying over the area, Fipke and he spotted the rim of a crater. It was here that they found a large chromium diopside crystal, while digging.

To read more on the surficial minerals associated with Canadian diamonds, visit http://atlas.gc.ca/site/english/maps/economic/diamondexploration/surficialmaterials/1.

World Class Diamonds from
the Diavik Diamond Mines Inc.,
http://www.diavik.ca/WCD.htm.

4. Success

The successes of this discovery soon started a diamond rush in the Northwest Territories. At this point Dummett had dropped out, sadly, for he was a South African geologist. Fipke and Blusson opened the first mine, Diamet, which was later named Etaki and now Aurias. This mine was very successful and other mines, fairly close, also did well. One of these, Diavik, is doing exceptionally well. It produced 5.7 million carats in its fourth year. The first quarter of this year, it produced 13.1 million carats, or 1/2th of 13.1 million carats is 675 kilograms, or if continued at the same rate all year will be 2700 kg!! By the way, this mine is owned 40% by the Aber Limited Partnership; and although, the name is the same as my instructor, she assures me they are not relatives although she wished they were. For a succinct history of the Diavik Diamond Mine operation, visit http://www.diavik.ca/history.htm.

This IKONOS image to the left is of the Etaki Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, was taken from Images of Canada at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing. Specifically this image is of the Panda Pit Mine, which is the largest excavation of a kimberlite pipe in NWT. Information on this mine is found at http://www.ccrs.nrcan.gc.ca/ccrs/learn/tour/43/43scene4_e.html

The mining process involves collecting diamond-bearing kimberlite in open pit or underground methods (http://www.diavik.ca/equipment.htm). This requires much support equipment such as shovels and hall trucks as seen below.

Below are interior images from the Diavik Diamond processing plant. This plant processes some 2 million tons of kimberlite ore annually (http://www.diavik.ca/Process.htm).

These images are taken from http://www.diavik.ca/Process.htm

More images of the Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. are available at http://www.nunalogistics.com/projects/clients/diavik/image_gallery.html and Mining Technology- BHP Diamond Mine - Ekati, NWT, at http://www.mining-technology.com/projects/ekati/.

5. Diamond Mining Impact on Canada

This development had a very marked effect upon northwestern Canada and beyond. Few had chosen to settle near Lac de Gras before the mining employment possibilities. According to a Diavik Diamond Mines news report in 2004, their mining workforce averaged 720 employees, with 72 per cent in northern Canada with an average of 36 per cent of the total workforce Aboriginal northerners. Additional information on the operations employment, visit http://www.diavik.ca/News/2005/Diavik%202004%20SEMA%20Report.pdf.

Mine workers are well paid at $63,000 a year, compared to $60,000 elsewhere. Employment opportunities are in Yellowknife, NWT, which has a diamond processing plant that processes over 2500 carats of diamonds a month. Other processing plants are scattered across Canada and add to the socio-economic mix for the country.

The value of these properties is self-evident. They provide employment and contribute to Canada's economy. In 2003, Canada accounted for 13% of the world's diamond production worth $1,240,000,000 U.S. dollars (Leung, 2005), and as can be seen, the production is still increasing. The production is a major source of earnings for Canada.

To read more about this topic, find an up-to-date newsletter, the Diavik dialogue, 1st quarter 2005 report at http://www.diavik.ca/News/2005/341-Dialogue_Vol_19.pdf. In addition, visit the Ekati Diamond Mine 2003 facts at http://ekati.bhpbilliton.com/docs/EkatiDiamondFacts2003.pdf and overview, http://ekati.bhpbilliton.com/docs/EKATIDiamondMineOverview.pdf, from BHP Billiton Diamonds, http://ekati.bhpbilliton.com/default.asp.

Finally, the value of diamonds goes beyond employment in mining to successful gemstone competition for DeBeers. Visit Sirius diamonds http:www.siriusdiamonds.com/pages/home.html, as well as http://www.aurias.com/en/index.shtml for information on Canadian diamonds from the far north. More can be learned on the Ekati story at http://www.aurias.com/en/story/ and to find the defining symbol of Canadian diamonds, see http://www.canadamark.com/ and http://ekati.bhpbilliton.com/docs/JCKPress%20ReleaseMay302003.pdf.

Bibliography

Print Resources

  1. Pearson, D. (1992). Notes from Geology 2021EZ Geology of Earth's Resources, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario.
  2. Danielson, V. (September 1992). Discovery of Lac de Gras in the: Northwest Territories". The Canadian Miner. Southam Business Communications.
  3. Leung, C. (March 13, 2005). Diamonds in the rough. Canadian Business, Rogers, Canada.

Electronic Resources

  1. Quarterly Report, Diavik Diamond Mines, Inc. Yellowknife Northwest Territories. WWW URL: http://www.diavik.ca Retrieved May, 2005.
  2. Diavik Diamond Mines Inc (n.d.) News item: Diavik 2004 socio-economic report released. WWW URL: http://www.diavik.ca/News/2005/Diavik%202004%20Socio-economic%20Report.pdf Retrieved May 2005.


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Webpage created May 2005; last update June 8, 2005. Copyright 2005 Robert Guy Williams. All rights reserved.