Monday, October 25, 2010

Diamond mining facts


Most people usually look at diamonds as the beautiful pieces of jewelry such as diamond rings and most people are not really interested about knowing how are diamonds actually mined, what do diamond mines look like, how many types of diamond mines is there, etc. Without diamond mining there wouldn't be diamonds so we should at least know some basic facts about 4 commonly used types of diamond mining based on mining techniques: open pit mining, hard-rock mining, alluvial mining, and the marine diamond mining as the latest technique.

Open pit diamond mines are probably the most known type of them all. This technique involves digging a large open pit in earth to extract diamonds from it. Open pit mining is mostly used in areas with unstable ground, like for instance sandy areas, because using any other option in such areas would be practically impossible. Open pit diamond mining method has been the subject of many protests because many environmentalists believe it is causing great environmental damage to many ecosystems by displacing very large amounts of land.

Open pit diamond mine

Tunneling underground is what second form, namely the hard rock mining, is all about. Hard rock mining involves drilling vertical tunnels which go couple of miles deep into the ground in order to extract valuable stone deposits. Vertical tunnels are not alone since horizontal tunnels are also built to connect the various vertical shafts to help the process of extraction. Despite advancement in technology and advanced machinery hard rock mining is still the most dangerous type of diamond mining since it is not only done deep underground but there are also increased possibilities of explosion, cave-ins, and harmful gases.

Alluvial diamond mines is basically mining of alluvial deposits (diamonds that end up in rivers). These diamonds originate from kimberlite rocks and the excavation of these diamonds can be most easily done by hydraulic mining, though smaller alluvial diamond deposits still mostly use sifting through river mud or sand with shovels and sieves to extract the diamonds.

Marine diamond mining is one of the latest diamond mining techniques that combines some principles of already mentioned techniques and uses vertical and horizontal drilling into the ocean floor and highly advanced underground vehicles to extract diamonds.

Diamond mining in Botswana

Botswana has the strongest economy in Africa and the highest GDP per person in Africa and it owes it all to their diamond production.

Almost everything related with diamonds in Botswana is connected with Debswana, a joint venture company owned by De Beers Investments (50%) and the Government of Botswana (50%) and its three operational diamond mines Lethlhakane, Orapa and Jwaneng. The last mine Jwaneng (usually referred to as the world's richest diamond mine) is especially known in diamond world because of its "aquarius" technology - a new method of sorting rough diamonds without any human intervention.

Jwaneng (meaning "a place of small stones") is world' s richest diamond mine (by value of recovered diamonds) and is producing 9.3 million tons of kimberlite ore per year at a ratio of 1.25 carats of diamond per ton. For instance in 2003 Jwaneng produced more than 14 million carats of rough, high-quality diamonds and this level of production is expected to last for the next 25 years.

Jwaneng diamond mine, Botswana

Jwaneng is very safe diamond mine, winner of many awards for safety and environmental compliance and it really should be safe since it employs more than 2000 workers. Other two mines Lethlhakane and Orapa are significant too, and the newest diamond mine in Botswana, is AK6 diamond mine, that was opened in 2008.

Diamond mining in Australia

Western Australia is great source of diamonds being the world's largest producer of diamonds by volume and its Argyle diamonds are famous internationally for their unique brilliance and stunning array of colors.

Argyle pipe is located at the headwaters of Smoke Creek, 120 km from nearest town Kununurra, 25 km upstream from lake Argyle and 2200 km north-east of Perth and it all began in early 1970s when first diamonds were found in Smoke Creek. However this isn't the first place in Australia where diamonds were discovered because first diamonds in Australia were discovered at the end of the 19th century in Pilbara region.

Argyle diamond mine construction began in 1982 and this diamond mine made Australia world's biggest producer of diamonds by volume. In the last ten years average annual production in this mine is more than 35 million carats which makes more than a third of world's total annual supply of diamonds.

Argyle diamond mine, Australia.

Argyle diamond mine covers huge area of 45 ha and majority of diamonds is recovered by main pipe and lesser part from alluvial deposits in Smoke and Limestone Creeks. Argyle diamond mine is especially famous for its intense pink diamonds and this mine recovers its diamonds from lamproite rock, and not from kimberlite rock (which is in many other countries usual source of diamonds). Once recovered diamonds are transported to Perth where they are sorted and later sold.

Argyle diamonds are really unique diamonds by world standards as they are harder than any other diamonds (since their atomic structure is different than of other diamonds where atoms are bonded together into very complex arrangements) and about 70 % of these diamonds fluoresce blue under ultra-violet light which gives them amazing blue flashes.

Diamond mining in Canada

Canada was completely irrelevant in the diamond world until the 1990s when several top class diamond-bearing deposits were found in the Northwest Territories. Canada opened its first diamond mine Ekati in 1998 which in only first six months of its work produced one million carats and now it produces between three and five million carats.

Canada's second mine is Diavik and it began production in 2003 with average production of six to eight million carats per year which is astonishing five percent of the world's total supply.

Canada's third mine is Jericho that was officially opened in August 2006, about 400 km northeast of Yellowknife and is owned by the Toronto-based Tahera Diamond Corporation.

Snap Lake mine will soon be officially opened about 220 kilometers north east of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and upon finalization will be the first De Beers mine outside South Africa and Canada's first completely underground diamond mine and there's also Victor mine that should be a massive diamond mine near James Bay in Ontario.

Diamond mining in Russia

When speaking about Russian diamonds, three regions take special place: the Arkhangelsk region, Perm region and the Sakha/Yakutsk Republic. Most diamonds are mined in Sakha Respublikata in Yakut (Yakutia) of Siberia, just below the Arctic circle.

Yakutsk is the capital city of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and this area is not only filled with diamonds but also with gold and oil. Sakha Republic is place where major Russian producers operate large open-pit mines on the Udachnaya and Jubilee kimberlite pipes.

Udachnaya mine ("udachnaya" meaning lucky) is the largest diamond deposit in Russia and has produced very high quantity of big diamonds (for instance a 301 ct diamond was recovered in August 2003). This mine is also producing by number of experts, world's clearest diamonds.

Udachnaya diamond mine.

Jubilee mine started its work in 1986 and it is open pit mine just as Udachnaya mine. This mine is constructed over the 'Yubileinaya' kimberlite pipe.

Anabar mine is also located in Sakha Republic but harsh weather conditions (most northern of all Russian mines) cause this mine to operate just during the short summer season.

Siberia certainly holds many more diamond deposits which just wait to be discovered so Russia's diamond future looks to be very bright and Russia has even potential (considering huge area this country covers) to overtake number one spot from Botswana in years to come.

Diamond mining in China

Many people don't know that China has its own diamond mine and for quite a long time as China's 701 Changma diamond mine was opened in 1975.

701 Changma diamond mine is the largest producer of diamonds in China and is located in the Shandong province. In its more than 30 years of existence this diamond mine produced over 1 Mct of quality diamonds.

Some other provinces are also being explored beside Shandong province (Liaoning, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shaanxi Provinces) as China is well aware of high profits in diamond business and wants to become major player on diamond market.

Production in Changma diamond mine increased significantly in last couple of years and considering the findings of new kimberlite pipes in some provinces China is on the right way to become major diamond force in years to come.

Diamond mining in South Africa

In South Africa diamonds were first discovered in 1867, near Kimberley. and this rich diamond source secured South Africa's number one spot as the world's leading diamonds producer in the mid-twentieth century.

Famous De Beers company was also founded in Kimberley (known also as "Diamond city") as Cecil Rhodes founded this well known company in 1888. De Beers is still the most influential diamond force in South Africa.

In 2003 South Africa produced above 11 Mct of diamonds. the most important mine is Venetia Diamond mine in the Limpopo province in South Africa, which is famous for producing some of the best quality diamonds in the world since its opening in 1992. Venetia Diamond mine alone produced in 2005 almost 7,2 Mct of diamonds and it employs about 1000 people. This is also first mine in the world to achieve ISO 9002 quality management certification. This is open-pit mine that is expected to carry on for the next 20 years.


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