Saturday, July 26, 2008

Brad's Pit officially opened

ATTAWAPISKAT, ON - Quite literally, it’s a jewel in the wilderness. The new De Beers diamond mine and processing plant was “officially” opened Saturday on a 15 hectare tract of land the aboriginals call mushkego. Many southerners might know it as muskeg.
The Victor Mine is 1200 kilometres north of Toronto. Many Ontario residents, unaware of the vast size of the province, might be surprised to learn that as the raven flies Fredericton, New Brunswick is closer to Toronto than the mine, which is roughly 90 kilometres inland from the saltwater shores of James Bay.
What makes the operation unique is not only that its Ontario’s first diamond mine, it’s also one of the remotest mining operations in the province.
An indication of that came Saturday morning as several planeloads of VIPs were being flown into the site for the day long celebration. A lone caribou that wandered onto the gravel airstrip was responsible for holding up one of the incoming flights. After waiting patiently for several minutes, the caribou was “coaxed” into leaving the airstrip by an employee in a slow moving truck.
That was the exception to the rule.
“Wildlife has the right-of-way here,” said Tom Ormsby, the manager of Corporate and Public Affairs for De Beers Victor Project. He explained that it’s all part of the company’s corporate attitude to leave as small a footprint as possible on the delicate ecosystem of the James Bay lowlands.
The attitude was echoed by mine manager Peter Mah who expressed delight that his engineers were able to find a quarry of limestone nearby. The limestone, which has a benign effect on the environment, is used for road building and creating the numerous berms and moats surrounding the mine property. Mah also outlined how the muskeg, a dark peaty material, was stripped from the surface of the pit and has been stockpiled so that it can be returned the land at some point 15 or 20 years in the future. The other unique aspect of the Victor operation is that the diamonds are unusually high quality. Simon O’Brien, De Beers’ diamond liaison manager explained that most diamond mining operations produce a wide spectrum of diamond qualities. That’s not the case at Victor. He says nearly all the stones at classed as VS-1, which he says indicates brilliant gem quality.
“It only produces diamonds of very nice quality,” said O’Brien.. In lots of other mines we produce diamonds of a similar quality but we also produce diamonds of a very, very low quality,” said O’Brien.
“It’s phenomenal really. It’s absolutely phenomenal that this mine only produces these wonderful gem-quality stones.”
O’Brien says the Victor mine is not a large volume mining operation, but it is the quality of the diamonds that made it economical for the mine to proceed. De Beers has invested nearly $1 billion getting the open pit mine and processing plant into production.
The life of the mine is estimated at 12 years, producing 600,000 carats a year. But mine manager Peter Mah is optimistic it could be longer. There are several other kimberlite pipes located nearby and he says exploration for more diamonds is a priority.
Brad Wood, the company’s technical services manager at the mine is especially pleased to see the mine going into production.
Wood was a geology student back in 1978 as part of a De Beers field exploration crew was working in the area. That was the summer Wood volunteered to look after the camp one weekend so he could spend time with fishing with his dad, who flew in from Burlington.
“We weren’t having a lot of luck with the fishing,” Wood recalls. Being a keen geology student, he noticed some rocks along the shore of the Attawapiskat River.
“We picked up a lot of rocks, but there was this particular one that was different and unique,” he said.
“Some of the senior people from South Africa were visiting,” he said. Once they examined the rock, “it caused quite a bit of excitement.” It caused enough excitement to convince them to intensify their search in the area. The rest is history. Wood smiles as he reminded by co-workers that the massive open pit is referred to as “Brad’s Pit.”
Michael Gravelle, Ontario’s minister of Northern Development and Mines, also attended the opening. Gravelle says the recent announcement by Premier Dalton McGuinty aimed at “protecting” the far north from future resource development, does not mean there cannot be future projects such as the Victor Mine.
“We are very excited about the premier’s far northern announcement about protecting fifty per cent of the far north,” said Gravelle.
“But what’s important for everyone to understand, particularly those in southern Ontario, it’s a huge massive piece of land up here and fifty per cent will still be open for development.”
The company says it’s mine also stands as an example of cooperation with aboriginals. Ormsby explained that extraordinary steps were taken to consult with the nearby Attawapiskat First Nation on the planning and development of the mine. De Beers has signed three separate Impact Benefit Agreements with First Nations on the James Bay coast. This has included employment agreements where more than forty per cent of the workers at the mine are aboriginal. Despite that, the Attawapiskat First Nation issued a news release Friday saying it was boycotting the opening ceremony, citing “numerous items of concern were present regarding current and future operations” at the mine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great story! I wonder where these gem quality diamonds are going to be cut...