De Beers has applied to expand Gahcho Kue to extend its mine life in light of an “economically viable ore” discovery.

Continued drilling in 2019 has revealed attractive ore north of the mine’s 5034 pit, the miner stated in its February updated project description sent to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. Now the global diamond giant is aiming to get approval from the regulator that would prolong Gahcho Kue’s lifespan by two years.

To mine the ore, De Beers is looking to remove additional rock and store more processed kimberlite, which can contain diamonds.

Gahcho Kue is set for a two-year extension of its mine life, if De Beers’ plans are approved.
NNSL file photo

It plans to expand its kimberlite storage facility, and add mine rock into its processed kimberlite pile. The miner also aims to “adjust the pit footprint and depth, and to extend the life of mine,” according to its application.

If approved, the result will entail expanding the mine’s dykes as well as the 5034 and Tuzo pits — amounting to a two-year extension on the previous 2030 shutdown date.

The documents also lay out plans for a 40-acre solar farm south of the camp area and walking trail at the site.

“The proposed changes to the mine plan will enable De Beers to continue our economical and social contributions for the optimum benefit of the local communities and residents,” William Liu, a De Beers’ regulatory specialist, wrote to the regulator in a March 17 letter.

In its response to the company’s application, the regulator wants to know more about requirements for the walking trail. It also wants De Beers to provide predicted environmental impacts and proposed mitigation, for both the trail and the solar farm.

Among other questions, its asking whether these developments will affect the provided security for the mine.

Expansion was hinted at last year

It’s the first definite news of expansion after months of hints from the miner. Last July, Gahcho Kue partner Mountain Province Diamonds announced its first discovery in 20 years — the Wilson kimberlite deposit.

At the time, Stuart Brown, president and CEO of Mountain Province, described it as an encouraging find and indication of possible future discoveries.

In November, a senior De Beers’ executive told the regulator at a public hearing to expect De Beers’ application shortly.

“De Beers is not leaving… stay tuned as we will soon be back in front of this board for a licence amendment for Gahcho Kue mine in order to extend the mine life,” said Erik Madsen, lead of corporate affairs with De Beers Canada.

The $1.1 billion Gahcho Kue project sits 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife at Kennady Lake and employs about 267 NWT residents. It has three active pipes: 5034, Hearne and Tuzo.

It’s unclear how COVID-19 will affect the miner’s plans, however.

De Beers spokesperson Terry Kruger recently told NNSL media that the company aimed to reduce chances of virus transmission to remote operations. It was doing so by implementing mandatory temperature screenings for everyone travelling to the mine from Yellowknife and Calgary, he said.

De Beers’ sales dropped by 36 per cent from January to February, which the company blamed on the COVID-19.

“Following an improvement in demand for rough diamonds during the first sales cycle of 2020, we recognized the impact of COVID-19 coronavirus on customers focused on supplying the Chinese market,” Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group, said in a recent statement.

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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