A proposed diamond mine north of Mistissini is much closer to becoming reality after the release of an updated preliminary assessment by the project promoter.

On March 23, Stornoway Diamond Corporation announced that the Renard Diamond Project is estimated to contain three times the raw diamonds than originally calculated. The Vancouver-based mining company now says the find in the Otish Mountains 200 km north of Mistissini holds more than $4 billion worth of the precious stones.

“We see Renard as a project with the potential to deliver a robust mining margin over a very long mine life,” said an understated Matt Manson, Stornoway’s President and CEO, in a press release.

Manson estimated the mine will net about $885 million over 25 years after construction and production costs are factored in. The company expects to make a final decision next year on whether to develop the mine, which would employ 600 people during the construction phase and create 300 permanent jobs during production.

“This study has firmly established Renard as one of the best undeveloped diamond deposits in the world, well on track to becoming Quebec’s first diamond mine,” added Stornoway’s Executive Chairman Eira Thomas. “As we move the project towards full feasibility this year, we intend to continue exploring what is proving to be a major diamond deposit.”

The company says it is already negotiating an Impact and Benefits Agreement with the Grand Council of Cree and the community of Mistissini as the project falls under the social and environmental protection rules of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The JBNQA guarantees the rights of the Cree Nation of Mistissini to hunting, fishing and trapping activities in the region.

On February 11, Stornoway filed a formal notice of intent with JBNQA administrators, the first step in a process that will lead to a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment. The project is also subject to federal review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Once these hurdles are cleared, mining permits will be sought from the Quebec and Canadian governments.

Environmentalists say the Stornoway diamond-mining project poses fewer risks than do the proposed uranium mines nearby in the Otish Mountains. Unlike gold mines, diamond extraction does not typically leave behind toxic deposits contaminated by heavy metals. Instead, a diamond mine normally operates by grinding, crushing and water blasting the raw rock to get at the diamonds it contains.

Coincidentally, in the provincial budget released last week, the Quebec government announced it will spend almost $700 million building roads to the Otish Mountains region, principally by extending Highway 167.

While Quebec also announced increased royalty charges on mining development during the budget, the new revenues continue to be largely symbolic compared to the wealth that is being shipped out of the province. Since 2004-05, Quebecers have earned only $174 million from royalties on the mineral resources they collectively own, while mining production during the same period was valued at $16.5 billion. Over the next four years, the government will bring in an additional $188 million in royalties from the mining sector.