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Tango diamond mine

Proposed Victor Mine replacement requires more local negotiations

By Gregory Reynolds

Work on the proposed Tango diamond mine that is expected to replace the Victor, the only operating diamond mine in Ontario, hopefully will resume this coming winter. De Beers Canada suspended development work on the Tango in February in order to deal with questions about the environmental effect of the project in the James Bay Lowlands.

The company has been quiet on the state of negotiations on the issues. The Attawapiskat First Nation is divided in support of the project, which is located on traditional land in Northern Ontario roughly 90 kilometres west of the community. In January, a sacred fire was lit on the winter ice road by protestors to voice concerns about economic and environmental issues associated with the mining project. The Tango extension would serve to lengthen the life of diamond mining in the Region.

De Beers spokesperson Tom Ormsby said in February that pursuing the Tango expansion is the most cost-efficient plan for the company as the Victor is set to close in 2018.

The company had planned to take a bulk sample from the Tango last winter as part of its feasibility study on the project. Delays might create a one-year gap between the closing of the Victor and putting a replacement into production. Delays would make the project more expensive. The weather is a problem in the Lowlands due to the high water content in the area’s muskeg cover.

Ormsby said exploration such as the bulk sample requires 100 days while the muskeg is frozen. An ice road is built annually north from Moosonee to provide land access to Aboriginal communities on the west coast of James Bay. It can be open as many as eight weeks but often mild weather shortens its life. The Victor cost over $1 billion to build and it quickly became an important economic contributor to both the local and provincial economies. Employment usually runs about 600 jobs, with many workers located in Attawapiskat. As well, Aboriginal companies provide some of the mine’s services. The Victor produces gems of remarkable colour, clarity and consistency that has driven the development of a world-class facility in Northeastern Ontario. Since the Victor Mine opened in July 2008, De Beers Canada exploration efforts have been focused around extending the resource reserves at it. The Victor Mine Extension Project is a proposed open pit diamond mine.

De Beers has been exploring 19 kimberlites (potentially diamond bearing rock) in the vicinity of the Victor Mine, with the intent to locate a resource that could extend the life of the Victor operations. To that end, De Beers has been investigating the viability of the Tango Extension kimberlite, located approximately seven km northwest of the Victor Mine. De Beers is undertaking engineering studies and is pursuing environmental approvals for the development of the Tango Extension kimberlite, supported by existing Victor Mine infrastructure.

The Victor Mine Extension Project is in the midst of a formal environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012), and is consulting with local communities and First Nations as part of that process. De Beers had two operating diamond mines in Canada, Snap Lake (placed into care and maintenance on Dec. 4, 2015) and Victor, plus a third under construction, Gahcho Kué. On June 29, De Beers Group of Companies welcomed the Interim Approval decision by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB) for the Extended Care and Maintenance and Water Management plans for its Snap Lake mine in the Northwest Territories. The Interim Approval requires the inclusion of commitments De Beers made during the Stakeholder review process into its updated plans. Snap Lake was put on care and maintenance following a review of the mine’s operation in light of market conditions. The MVLWB’s decision will enable the preservation of the mine’s significant diamond resource in the ground for potential production in the future.

The Gahcho Kué Project is a remote fly-in/fly-out location 280 km northeast of Yellowknife. De Beers, as the operator, is committed to building this new mine in the Northwest Territories to high safety standards and with deep respect for the land. The total capital cost is approximately C$1 billion.

The mine is expected to go into production late in 2016. Gahcho Kué will be an open pit operation, mining three kimberlite pipes in sequence: 5034, Hearne and Tuzo. During construction, the workforce will peak at approximately 700 workers. Once in operation, about 400 De Beers workers will be required to operate the mine during the approximately 12 year life of mine. De Beers is committed to sustainable development in local communities and has signed six Impact Benefit Agreements (IBA) for the Gahcho Kué Mine.