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Diamonds aren’t forever at Victor Mine

Despite 2019 mine closure, De Beers still believes James Bay lowlands hold promise
Victor mine mill
Victor Mine processing facilities (De Beers Canada photo)

De Beers Canada is razing and remediating the Victor Mine site beginning in 2019, but it’s not completely abandoning the James Bay region.

If there more rich diamond deposits to be unearthed, a company spokesman said they’ll come at it with a different approach.

Tom Ormsby, the company’s head of corporate affairs, said the diamond-bearing ground, 90 kilometres east of Attawapiskat, still remains very prospective but it doesn’t support keeping the current infrastructure intact.

“It all has to go. The minute the process plant has the last ore pushed through then the decommissioning and demolition will begin.”

The company announced Nov. 1 that production at the remote fly-in/fly-out mine would finish during the first quarter of 2019, at which time the deposit will be depleted.

Ontario’s first diamond mine has exceeded its original six-million carat forecast by a million since starting operations in June 2008.

Ormsby said De Beers’ plans are to finish its remaining 16 months of production at the open pit, then go through with its pre-arranged closure and site remediation plans, including a tear-down of all the surface buildings. A demolition contract will be awarded shortly.

Closure is a three to five-year process followed by ongoing environmental site monitoring.

“Then at that point, we’ll have to have a look,” said Ormsby, in regards to future diamond potential.

Always waiting in the wings to succeed the Victor pit was the nearby Tango deposit. But De Beers decided to place the development of the extension on indefinite hold last January.

“We know now that the Tango extension kimberlite is not economic as a stand-alone ore body,” said Ormsby.

Kimberlite is the most common host rock of diamonds.

Tango is considered the best of the 15 diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes. But it’s half the size of the Victor pipe, said Ormsby.

There was hope that the other diamonds within the kimberlite cluster would fetch a very high price per carat.

“We know none are trending that way,” he said. “There are some very good diamonds in those pipes but they’re not at the Victor level, and few in the world are. And so with half the size (at Tango) and a different revenue model we couldn’t make it economical with what we’ve got.”

Should Tango enter production or be part of a district-scale operation, Ormsby said De Beers will have to take a different mine design approach.

“The big monster mines are not being found anymore,” said Ormsby, “but we’re trying to figure out a way to mine these kimberlites that’s going to be effective and give you the return. We’ve really got to change our mindset.”

De Beers has discovered some 200 small kimberlite holdings across Canada. Ongoing differences with Attawapiskat First Nation didn’t play a role in shuttering operations, said Ormsby.

It was based on fixed costs and the infrastructure installed to support the Victor project.

“This one ended up being on the numbers. We couldn’t bring Tango in on permits for another few years and there would be a gap (in production).”

Since the initial kimberlite discovery in 1987, De Beers’ relations with nearby Attawapiskat have been sometimes frosty.

The two parties signed an impact benefit agreement in 2005, one of four such deals with area First Nation communities.

Last year, Attawapiskat protested De Beers taking a bulk sample at Tango, dovetailing on past complaints about the mine’s environmental impact and questioning the economic and revenue benefits the community of 1,500 has derived from the operation.

Ormsby said the focus over the next year and a half is to “finish strong,” a message recently conveyed to the leadership of Attawapiskat, Moose Cree, Kashechewan and Fort Albany.

“That’s important to us because we do want the long-term relationships, and part of maintaining this relationship is doing this right. This mine has been an outstanding operation. We want to make sure it closes equally as strong.”

Beyond 2019, De Beers intends to keep an exploration presence there.

“We’re very keen on the (kimberlite) cluster that we have there,” said Ormsby. “We still think there’s potential there.”

The next phase of exploration is undetermined, he said, since De Beers is analyzing results from a “very aggressive” 2017 campaign on its Canadian properties. It will dictate where the next round of exploration financing goes.

“Our goal is still to find the next mine and keep working. We have worked this area extensively, we’ve got great knowledge.

“We have 15 diamond-bearing kimberlite and we hope that some will be in the future of the company.”

De Beers only other Canadian operation is its Gahcho Kué Mine in the Northwest Territories, a joint venture it shares with Mountain Province Diamonds.

Its nearby Snap Lake Mine was shuttered in 2015 and placed on indefinite care and maintenance owing to a downturn in diamond prices and an underground flooding problem.