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EKATI Diamond Mine

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The EKATI Diamond Mine is located approximately 193 miles (310 km) northeast of Yellowknife in the Lac de Gras area of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Officially opened on October 14, 1998, EKATI is Canada’s first diamond mine.[1] It is the first diamond mine in North America to use both open-pit and underground mining methods.[2]

EKATI means “fat lake” in the native language of the Dene peoples of the Northwest Territories. The white veins of quartz rock found throughout the area are similar in appearance to caribou fat.[3]

The mine is operated in a joint venture between BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc., which owns 80 percent, and geologists and founders Charles E. Fipke and Dr. Stewart E. Blusson, who each own 10 percent.[4]

For most of the year, the EKATI Diamond Mine is only accessible by air from Yellowknife. From about mid-January to mid-April, surface transportation is made possible by way of a 311-mile (500-km) ice road rebuilt annually by Robinson’s Trucking.[5]

EKATI is composed of more than 150 kimberlite pipes, at least six of which contain diamonds. The total life expectancy of the mine is approximately 25 years.[6]

Contents

[edit] What is Kimberlite?

Kimberlite is a soft igneous rock located in long, vertical volcanic pipes in which diamonds are sometimes found. There are less than 10,000 kimberlite pipes in the world, with very few containing diamonds. At EKATI, melting glacier ice formed shallow lakes over these pipes 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Kimberlite is named after Kimberley, South Africa, where diamond-bearing pipes were discovered in the 1860s.[7]

[edit] Construction History

[edit] Diamonds in the Rough

The events leading to the establishment of EKATI were initiated when diamond deposits were discovered by geologist Charles Fipke in 1981.[8] Prospecting at the Yukon-Northwest Territories border, Fipke located diamond mineral indicators in the Mackenzie region. Exploration continued, leading to the next indicators being discovered in 1989 in the Lac de Gras area. These indicators hinted at diamond-rich kimberlite pipe. Two years later, a sample was taken at Point Lake, and Charles Fipke and Stewart Blusson, in collaboration with BHP Minerals, found diamonds. Following the discovery, the EKATI site was built on approximately 959,797 acres (388,416 ha)[9] of continuous permafrost. Operations began on October 14, 1998.[10]

[edit] Diamond Production

The first EKATI diamonds were sold in 2001.[11] Production that year was 2.8 million carats.[12] By 2002, the operation was producing US$1.4 million worth of diamonds daily, totaling 4.56 million carats worth US$491 million for the year.[13] The mine’s sales account for approximately six percent of the world’s supply of rough diamonds by value.[14]

[edit] Mining Methods

The majority of the mines at the site, specifically Fox, Beartooth, Pigeon, Sable, and Misery, are being open-pit mined. In 2006, BHP Billiton expanded the Panda orebody from an open-pit mine into an underground operation at a cost of US$182 million. The Panda orebody is expected to produce 40 percent of EKATI’s diamonds by value.[15] BHP Billiton started a second underground mining operation (Koala North) in late 2007. Koala was previously an open-pit mine but was always intended to be subsequently underground mined. The infrastructures for the underground mines include access portals and ramps, and conveyor and material handling systems.

[edit] Digging Open-pit Mines

To begin mining, the lakes covering each kimberlite pipe have to be drained. The kimberlite is then excavated in a truck and shovel operation. Between 35 and 40Mt/y of rock is excavated during the preliminary process.[16] The equipment used includes four Driltech D90KS blasthole drills, two Demag H655SO diesel-hydraulic shovels, ten Caterpillar D10R bulldozers, a Caterpillar 994 loader, a Caterpillar 5120 hydraulic excavator, and four Caterpillar 992 loaders.[17]

Workers use thirteen 240T Caterpillar rock trucks, three 170T Caterpillar 793 rock trucks, and eleven 100T Caterpillar 777D rock trucks to remove the waste material from the mine.[18] The same type of equipment is used to remove additional waste and ore from the mines daily.

[edit] Processing the Ores

When ore is removed from the mine and moved to the 18,000 ton per day processing plant, it is crushed to -11.8 inches (–300 mm) in a gyratory crusher. Coarse ore is moved to a stockpile in a building with a 20,000-ton storage capacity. Further crushing is carried out with a cone crusher, followed by a high-pressure roll crusher.

The crushed ore is then treated with scrubbers, degritters, and sanders to remove fine waste particles. Further separation is done by heavy-medium separation (HMS); diamond concentrate is separated from the crushed ore using slurry of water and fine ferrosilicon. The final process involves the use of x-ray sorters to remove the diamonds from the HMS concentrate.

[edit] Environmental Considerations

All of the electric power used at the mine is produced by BHP Billiton’s diesel power station.[19] The company, having volunteered greenhouse gas emission reports for several years, has attained the highest level in the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Challenge Registry.[20]

Environmental impact is regularly monitored through a variety of studies, including the Aquatic Effects Monitoring, Wildlife Effects Monitoring, and Panda Diversion Channel Monitoring programs, as well as lake and stream baseline studies.

[edit] Employment Practices

BHP Billiton employs approximately 800 regular employees and an average of 700 contractors at the EKATI mine. The company is committed to providing employment and business opportunities to Northerners; hiring preference is given to local residents and Aboriginals.[21]

In early 2008, BHP Billiton was awarded the John T. Ryan National Safety Trophy as EKATI achieved the best safety performance in the Select Mine Category for 2007.[22]

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Unique Facts

  • Canada’s first diamond mine[23]
  • The first diamond mine in North America to combine open-pit and underground methods[24]

[edit] References

  1. EKATI Diamond Mine. BHPBilliton, 2008-09-24.
  2. Parker, G. Brian. A Diamond in the Rough. Point of Beginning, April, 2006. (accessed: 2008-09-24)
  3. Ekati Diamon Mine, Northwest Territories. Natural Resources Canada, 2008-09-24.
  4. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  5. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  6. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  7. Diamond Mining. The Nature of Diamonds, 2008-09-24.
  8. Main Areas for Diamond Exploration. Natural Resources Canada, 2008-09-24.
  9. Ekati. Global InfoMine, 2008-09-24.
  10. Ekati Diamon Mine, Northwest Territories. Natural Resources Canada, 2008-09-24.
  11. Ekati's glittering bottom line. NNSL.com, 2008-09-24.
  12. Ekati's glittering bottom line. NNSL.com, 2008-09-24.
  13. Ekati's glittering bottom line. NNSL.com, 2008-09-24.
  14. About EKATI. BHPBilliton, 2008-09-24.
  15. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  16. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  17. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  18. Ekati Diamond Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada. Mining-Technologies.com, 2008-09-24.
  19. About EKATI. BHPBilliton, 2008-09-24.
  20. About EKATI. BHPBilliton, 2008-09-24.
  21. About EKATI. BHPBilliton, 2008-09-24.
  22. EKATI Diamond Mine National Winner of Canadian Safety Award. BHPBilliton, April, 2008. (accessed: 2008-09-24)
  23. Ekati Diamond Mine. Rescan Environmental Services Ltd., 2008-09-24.
  24. Parker, G. Brian. A Diamond in the Rough. Point of Beginning, April, 2006. (accessed: 2008-09-24)