Aerial view of Panda Pit (foreground), Koala North (centre) and Fox Pit (background)
This is a big year for Canada’s first diamond mine. On October 14, 2008, the BHP Billiton majority-owned and operated EKATI Diamond Mine celebrated ten years since officially beginning operations. Over the years, the mine has produced 40 million carats of diamonds, employed thousands of people, added significantly to the local economy and has contributed to the popularity Canadian diamonds enjoy worldwide.
A sparkling start
EKATI’s origins date back to 1991, when the first diamonds were discovered by geologists Charles Fipke and Stewart Blusson. By that time, the pair had been prospecting in the region for nearly a decade, with promising finds of kimberlite indicator minerals (KIMs) dating as far back as 1985. Today, Fipke and Blusson each own a minority stake of 10 per cent in the EKATI mine — more than enough to make them multimillionaires.
“One of the things that make EKATI unique is that it is comprised of a series of open pits — six to date,” said Eric Denholm, EKATI’s superintendent of traditional knowledge and permitting. The original five pits — Panda, Koala, Misery, Fox and Koala North — were permitted together, before the mine began operations. “Beartooth and two other pits planned for future development, Pigeon and Sable, came along a few years after the main licensing and are subject to their own water license,” he added.
As the high-grade ore was used up near the surface, EKATI transitioned its open pit operations into an underground stage. Today, two of the original six pits — Panda and Koala — are being operated as underground mines. Fortunately, their proximity allowed EKATI to access them via a single portal, keeping development costs down. Koala North was used as EKATI’s original test mine for underground development and will rejoin underground production in the near future.
The only one of the original six pits that is not currently in production is Misery. Located 27 kilometres from the main camp and processing plant, Misery Open Pit was completed according to plan and is now in the midst of a feasibility study to determine the economics of extraction of the remaining ore via either an open pit expansion or an underground extraction method.