A study released by the Stornoway Diamond Corporation has estimated that over $4 billion worth of diamonds is buried in an area northeast of Mistissini.
The results, released on November 16, are part of a long-term investigation undertaken by the corporation in the area around the Otish Mountains. It is a feasibility study for the corporation’s Renard project, which could lead to the creation of Quebec’s first diamond mine. The report, meant to determine the financial and environmental viability of the project, yielded many predictions favouring the commencement of diamond exploitation.
The final results of the study estimate that over 18 million carats of diamonds are present in the Renard project area; this is roughly enough material to create an engagement ring for every single person in Canada.
In partnership with Quebec mining firm SOQUEM, Vancouver-based Stornoway has also pledged to help the local economy through employment. The company projects the creation of 200-300 construction jobs, as well as 150-200 permanent jobs in diamond mining. Additionally, the company is contributing $44 million to the Plan Nord, the Charest government’s controversial economic policy for northern Quebec. Several open-house consultations have also been held among various Cree communities throughout the region.
One of the key strengths enumerated by Stornoway in favour of opening a mine in Quebec was the province’s favourable regulatory climate for natural-resource extraction. In addition to oversight, the government will also be involved in the extension of Highway 167 into the mining site. The highway extension alone will cost the taxpayers $332 million. Financing of this highway extension is part of an agreement between the government and Stornoway announced in August of this year.
The presence of kimberlite, a form of diamond, was discovered in 2001. Stornoway has spent many years negotiating with the various involved parties, Eeyou Istchee among them. The mining operation itself is a 50/50 partnership between Stornoway and SOQUEM, which is a subsidiary of a corporation owned by the government of Quebec. The feasibility study alone cost $28.6 million to produce.
The mine will feature both open-pit and underground mining areas. When it is fully up and running, the operation will produce up to 5,000 tonnes of raw material per day, which is almost two million tonnes a year.
Though waste material is an inevitable byproduct of any mining operation, Stornoway contends the environmental impact will be less hazardous relative to the extraction of other materials. It promises, among other things, that waste will not disturb fish habitats in the surrounding ecosystem. Additionally, the company promises to convert both its airstrip and its open pit to environmentally friendly purposes. This is part of Stornoway’s “Closure and Rehabilitation Plan,” a subsection of the Renard project promising to clean up the environment once operations have ceased.
Still, this is not enough to satisfy environmentalists. The Ottawa-based watchdog, Mining Watch Canada, criticized the Renard operation. They contend that any mining operation would degrade the ecosystem of the area.
“Like any other mine, there are environmental liabilities,” said Ramsey Hart, a spokesperson for the group. “The proposed roadway would cut through a provincial park, which will cause problems due to increased access to the area. Mining is also power-intensive, and even though Quebec has an abundance of power, you’ll see power lines cutting across the territory.”
Construction on the mine is set to start in July 2013, pending completion of the extension to Highway 167. The first diamonds are projected to leave the mine in the summer of 2015. Company predictions suggest the mine could run for 20 to 25 years.