Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut November 23, 2012 - 11:42 am

Nunavut could become a diamond-mining powerhouse: geologist

"There’s no reason not to believe that"

DAVID MURPHY
The diamond potential in Nunavut is huge, says Dr. Herb Helmstaedt of Queen’s University, a geologist and diamond expert. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)
The diamond potential in Nunavut is huge, says Dr. Herb Helmstaedt of Queen’s University, a geologist and diamond expert. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Diamonds could play a big role in Nunavut’s future.

That was the message from Dr. Herb Helmstaedt of Queen’s University, a geologist and diamond expert, in a Nov. 21 talk at the Nunavut Research Institute in Iqaluit.

Helmstaedt, who has worked in the geology field for decades, has travelled everywhere from India to northern Canada to learn more about diamond mining.

And he’s concluded that there’s a great deal of potential wealth in the stash of diamonds which lie under Nunavut.

“Canada [is a] newcomer to the show. In value by country, Canada is the best,” Helmstaedt said at his lecture called “Diamonds then, now, and in the Future.”

In one diagram, he showed a line graph that illustrates when countries started mining for diamonds, and how much value diamonds from different regions are worth.

Canada now stands at the very top of that chart, beating diamond-rich countries like Australia, Botswana and Russia.

From 1995 to 2005, Canada’s diamonds brought in almost $12 billion, about $2 billion more than earned by Australian diamond mining companies.

But, until the 1990s, most people didn’t even think diamond mining could be possible on northern Canada’s Precambrian Shield — the area where most diamonds are found in Canada, Helmstaedt said.

That being said, in Nunavut, diamond mining has hit rough spots: Tahera Diamond Corp.’s Jericho Mine in the Kitikmeot region opened in 2006, and then closed down in 2008 when the global financial debt crisis took a massive toll on the diamond industry.

The demand for diamonds around the world is only just getting back to what it was five years ago, said Helmstaedt.

“[And] Tahera Diamond Corp. must have had made major errors along the way, and that didn’t pan out,” Helmstaedt said.

But just recently, Jericho’s new owners, Shear Diamonds Ltd., said that due to “weak world diamond prices” they had to suspend operations.  And now Shear is seeking a buyer for the Jericho mine.

“That doesn’t mean that another diamond endeavor wouldn’t be successful,” Helmstaedt said.

Now is the best time for getting into the diamond business, he insists. That’s because the forecasted increase in the size of the massive middle class populations of China and India spells an increase in the demand for more diamond-studded engagement rings wedding bands in the future.

Several diamond exploration projects are currently operating in Nunavut — including the Chidliak mine about 120 kilometres northeast of Iqaluit.

De Beers Canada Inc. and Peregrine Diamonds Inc. have teamed together to develop Chidliak in a deal which in time, will give De Beers majority ownership of the property.

“I don’t think DeBeers would have gone in there if they didn’t think it was promising,” Helmstaedt said, adding that Nunavut could be a powerhouse when it comes to diamond mining in the future. “There’s no reason not to believe that.”

Helmstaedt also said major benefits could come to Iqaluit indirectly through more employment while “substantial” taxes to the Government of Nunavut.

And, diamond mining brings another bonus: unlike other mining operations there aren’t too many environmental negatives when it comes to mining diamonds.

“Diamond mines don’t pollute by nature. You mine the rock, you crush the rock, you then treat the crushed rock,” Helmstaedt said.

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