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Snap Lake Mine turns four

Thandiwe Vela
Northern News Services
Published Friday, July 27, 2012

Walking across the Snap Lake Mine site about 220 km northeast of Yellowknife, there is little evidence of the round-the-clock activity going on hundreds of kilometres below the surface of the lake.

The mine is Canada's only completely underground diamond mine, situated at depths reaching 480 metres below the surface of Snap Lake.

"It's the most beautiful mine in the world," general manager Maxwell Morapeli proudly stated during a tour of the mine on Tuesday. "It's under the lake, so if you try and take a photo of our mine, what do you see? A beautiful, Northern lake."

As uncertainty continues to loom over the ownership of the NWT's two other maturing diamond mines, Snap Lake - the youngest of the three diamond mines - stands apart, as owner De Beers Canada remains upbeat about the territory's diamond industry.

In addition to the ongoing advancement of the international diamond company's Gahcho Kue project, this month De Beers celebrated four years since Snap Lake opened in July 2008, as the young mine finally reaches its stride.

"For us, it's an exciting time," said Cathie Bolstad, director of external and corporate affairs, reflecting on the mine's challenging start amid the 2008-2009 recession.

"The mine has been through a very difficult economic period, just after opening, and was able to adjust, scale down, and come back up to production again and so we're doing that, and have done that successfully.

"We've been up for four years and the mine has a strong future."

With operations set to continue until 2030, Snap Lake's life stretches well beyond both Ekati and Diavik diamond mines, which are scheduled for closure in 2018 and 2022, respectively.

About 60 km of drifts and ramps run through the underground mine, its kimberlite sheet dipping down beneath Snap Lake at an angle of 12 to 15 degrees.

An average of more than 2,000 tonnes of ore per day is treated at the on-site processing plant, which is designed to handle 3,150 tonnes of ore per day.

With 881,000 carats produced at Snap Lake last year, the mine is the smallest of the three diamond mines, but while both Ekati owner BHP Billiton and Diavik owner Rio Tinto continue to consider pulling out of the diamond business - which has seen softening market prices - De Beers is going full speed ahead with its second NWT diamond project Gahcho Kue, located 80 km southeast of Snap Lake.

"The big landmark for De Beers next is the permitting of the Gahcho Kue project with our joint venture partner Mountain Province," Bolstad said.

"So we're focused right now on successfully permitting that project. That's our next big thing and Canada's next greatest diamond mine."

A public hearing for Gahcho Kue is scheduled to take place at the end of this year as part of the diamond project's environmental impact review.

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