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Canada Strengthens Position as World's No. 3 Rough Diamond Producer

It takes a long time to develop a diamond mine, with the figure usually given being about 15 years.

And that is also about the length of time it has taken for Canada to become one of the world's main diamond producers. The main diamond-producing countries are Russia and Botswana, but they have been producing diamonds for much longer than Canada – more than half a century.

Diamond rich areas weren't found in Canada until about 20 years ago. Once diamonds were discovered, however, within about a decade, major diamond mining projects were unearthed and active mining began. Canada is now the third-largest diamond producing country in the world.

And while other mines around the world – especially the largest and most veteran – are starting to deplete and no large new operations are unearthed, Canada continues to solidify its position as the world's third-largest producer via new mines which are likely to make up some of the projected shortfall in supply in the coming decade or so.

Canada owes its number three ranking to just one region of the Northwest Territories, Lac de Gras, which is the location of two large diamond-producing mines, Ekati, Diavik, and since last year the Gahcho Kué operation – a joint venture between De Beers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds.

Of the three Lac de Gras mines, Dominion Diamond’s majority-held Ekati has about several years left of life expectancy, although development of the Jay deposit could potentially add another 11 years. Ekati was the first major discovery in Canada and has so far produced in excess of 40 million carats.

Two geologists, Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson, are credited with the discovery of the first diamond mines found in Canada in the mid-1980s. Although the first diamond rich area they discovered was in Point Lake, it was quickly determined to be an uneconomical piece of land, but it resulted in the largest diamond staking rushes in the history of mining. This massive search resulted in the discovery of the Ekati operation which hosts 156 kimberlite pipes. The discovery and later success of this diamond mine caught the attention of other major mining operations, and more massive mines were opened and fully operational within 10 years.

One of these is the Diavik mine, located nearly 200 miles north of Yellowknife, way up in the Arctic Circle. It is one of the largest open pit diamond mines in the world in terms of volume and produces about eight million carats per year. Operations have shifted to underground mining from open pit, and the life span of the mine is forecast at 16 to 22 years since its opening in 2003.

It is jointly owned by Rio Tinto, with 60%, and Dominion Diamond Corp which owns the rest. The two joint-venture participants retain the right to market, independently, their respective share of the diamonds produced from Diavik.

Gahcho Kué started producing last year. Mountain Province Diamonds (49 percent) and joint venture partner De Beers (51 percent) expect Gahcho Kué to produce an annual average 4.5 million carats over about 12 years. That would make it one of the top 10 diamond mines by volume. Gahcho Kue is the sixth diamond mine opened in Canada in the 18 years that the country has mined diamonds.

Among the country's other mining firms are Kennady Diamonds Inc. which controls 100 percent of the Kennady North diamond project located in the Northwest Territories. Kennady North is immediately to the north and west of the Gahcho Kué Diamond Mine.

Kennady Diamonds aims to identify a resource along the Kelvin – Faraday kimberlite corridor of between 12 and 15 million tonnes at a grade of between 2 and 2.5 carats per tonne and also to identify new kimberlites outside of the corridor. The Kelvin – Faraday corridor is a target for further exploration. The tonnage estimate is based on the drilling completed to date. The potential quantity is conceptual in nature as there has been insufficient drilling to define a mineral resource and it is uncertain if further exploration will result in the target being delineated as a mineral resource.

Further afield, Ontario’s only diamond mine, De Beers’ Victor operation, faces depletion this year. The company hopes to postpone this by developing the Tango kimberlite, a smaller, lower-grade deposit seven kilometers northwest. is an open pit mine and is currently producing 600,000 carats per year of rough diamond stones.

And in Quebec, Stornoway Diamond Corp began operations at its Renard operation late last year The company estimates Renard will supply 1.6 million carats annually for 11 years, providing about 2 percent of global supply.

The Canadian diamond industry has placed a great deal of emphasis on its diamonds not having any association whatsoever with conflict diamonds from Africa. Indeed, Canada was careful to become one of the main supporters of the Kimberly Process. All diamonds mined and cut in the Northwest Territories are laser inscribed with a unique identification number so that retailers can assure they are conflict-free stones.

In addition, all Canadian diamond mines are overseen by the Canada Mining Regulations for the Northwest Territories. This program ensures the preservation of surrounding land and aquatic habitats.

With diamond mines running down in the rest of the world, Canada appears to be strongly placed to continue to consolidate its position as the world's third-largest diamond producer.

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