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Ontario diamonds nearly ready to roll out

September 1, 2008
by Nick Stewart
In: News with 0 Comments

Nearly 20 years and $1 billion later, Ontario’s first diamond mine is in full production.

With 98 per cent of infrastructure commissioned and complete, what little work remaining on De Beers Canada’s Victor Project, located 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat, largely involves fine-tuning ore blends for the processing plant.

Since January 20, pre-production ore has been running through the process plant, with full production anticipated for the beginning of the fourth quarter at the latest.

“As with any other mining operation, you can’t just turn it on and get it going,” says Tom Ormsby, company spokesperson

“You have to do some early runs and see where you make improvements.”

The 7,100-tonne-per-day mine is not only slightly under budget, but it is also nine months ahead of schedule; quite an achievement for as vast an undertaking as the Victor Project, Ormsby says.

Though first discovered in 1987, environmental studies at the Victor pipe site kicked off from 2002 to 2005, with approvals and full-fledged construction beginning in early 2006.

The economic spin-offs that have arisen in that time are calculated to be in the range of seven-to-one, or seven dollars for every dollar spent by De Beers. Ormsby expects that the regional benefit achieved to date is generally in the range of $6.7 billion, of which $4.2 billion has flowed into Northern Ontario’s coffers through major contracts and employment.

The completion of the processing facilities required commissioning 176 separate components, which involved the engineering, construction, installation and testing of various internal elements, such as conveyor belts.

As an example of how local airlines also benefited, Ormsby says 22,000 people were flown into the Victor project and back in the last year alone.

Employment has also grown in recent months. A closer look at the projects has established the need for an increase in employment potential, raising the employee count from 400 to 454, with 85 per cent of the permanent workforce having been hired thus far. While the exact number of First Nations in that total is as yet unknown, efforts have been made to include them whenever possible.

Up to 60 per cent of the mining team is currently made up of First Nations. What’s more, nearly 900 positions through the five-year construction period were also held by Aboriginals, 800 of whom were from James Bay-area First Nations.

Much of the training has taken place through partnerships with local institutions, such as James Bay Employment and Training, as well as Northern College, which has long had a presence along the James Bay coast with its full-time campus in Moosonee.

Through these partnerships, De Beers Canada has even mandated the creation of a new program in mineral process operation at Northern College, and the majority of the 30 inaugural graduates have been hired.  In fact, 80 per cent of the Victor Project’s workforce to date has been from Northern Ontario.

While hesitating to identify specific obstacles that have arisen throughout the last five years, Ormsby says the project has been “intense in different ways,” between permitting, assessment, construction, and now the operations process.  This doesn’t include other challenging factors, including the intemperate weather, the marshy muskeg which dots the landscape, as well as the hotly debated diamond revenue tax and rising energy costs. However, the Victor Project has been plugged into the James Bay coast’s power grid, thereby reducing its reliance on skyrocketing oil prices.

Now that the work is nearly complete, officials are looking to the next step. This involves the exploration of the remaining 14 kimberlite pipes on the property, the majority of which are located within 15 kilometres of the facility’s process plant.

Additional samples of these pipes were collected through the winter, and will be processed at various facilities over the summer months to better determine their grade and overall economic potential. This will help to prepare a winter exploration program, though no exploration budget has been established as of yet. Given the swampy nature of the muskeg, this campaign is only possible deep into the winter season when the ground freezes up and makes it possible to bring in heavier equipment.

This work is expected to help increase the project’s current 10 to 12-year mine life.

“We would like to know as early as possible where there’s other potential to extend the life of the mine,” says Ormsby.  “It probably would be folly to think that we’ll just work this one to the end of its life and then start looking around in 10 years to see what we find.”

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