Starting Koala North - North America's First Underground Diamond Mine
Following initial discovery in 1991, BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc opened Canada¡¦s first diamond mine, the Ekati Diamond Mine„§ in the Northwest Territories on October 14th, 1998. Four short years later on November 29th, 2002, saw the opening of North America¡¦s first underground diamond mine - the Koala North mine. Nestled between the original Panda open pit and the new Koala pit which is currently pre-stripping, Koala North represents the first underground kimberlite mining venture in Arctic conditions outside the underground mines being developed by ALROSA in the Yakutsk region of eastern Russia.
Underground mining represents a key component of the long term business plan for the Ekati Diamond Mine. As various open pits reach their economic limit, continued recovery of high value ore at depth is dependent upon the ability to productively mine the kimberlite pipes by underground methods. As a function of its location, size, and value, the Koala North pipe is ideally positioned to host the first underground mine at Ekati Diamond Mine. In addition to being an ore feed source for the operation, Koala North is designed as a learning mine, from which to gain valuable experience in preparation for the potential mining of other larger, higher value pipes by underground methods in the future.
Applying the open benching mining method in Arctic conditions brings a unique combination of mining challenges together in a harsh climate and remote environment. This paper examines the design and establishment of the Koala North mine. Discussion includes experiences gained from the first year of development, production start-up, and provides a brief overview of our potential underground future at the Ekati Diamond Mine.