Canada’s mild winter disrupts key ice road to remote Arctic diamond mines

An unusually warm winter in Canada this year has delayed the opening of a 400-kilometer (250-mile) ice road that is rebuilt every year as the main conduit for Rio Tinto, Burgundy Mines and De Beers to access their diamond mines in the remote Arctic region.

The Winter Road, which serves the region accessible only by air for 10 months of the year, opened with a two-week delay in the middle of February, disrupting movement of goods along the ice road built over 64 frozen lakes.

Earlier this week, the Tlicho government in Northwest Territories (NWT) restricted movement of commercial trucks for few days in one of the winter roads due to anticipated warmer weather across the North Slave Region.

While diamond production remains unaffected, the delay underscores the challenges that companies face as the mines that make Canada the world’s third largest diamond producer come to the end of their productive life.

It also highlights the infrastructure hurdle for the NWT and Nunavut that are positioning themselves as the next frontiers in the exploration of critical metals, such as rare earth, cobalt and lithium, in the transition to a greener future.

The delays in building the Winter Road, which first became operational in 1982, have happened in the past, but this year’s is the longest delay in recent years, according to Tom Hoefer, senior advisor to the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

“We did start the road a bit later as a result,” he said.

Climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, coupled with the emergence of the natural El Nino climate pattern, pushed the world into record heat territory in 2023.

The impact of El Nino this year resulted in Yellowknife, the capital of the NWT, recording a maximum temperature of zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) in December and minus 8.7 degrees Celsius (17.6 F) in February, making it the warmest winter days in a decade, according to data from Environment Canada.

The Winter Road opens between late January and early April and requires minimum of 29 inches (74 cm) of ice for vehicles that can carry 26,000 kilograms (57,320 lbs) of gross vehicle weight, to transport diesel and dynamite required to operate the mines.

On warmer days, the engineers have found ways to trick nature by creating artificial ice using giant sprinklers to spray water high up in the air so that they cool and form thick layer of ice when they fall.

Paul Gruner, CEO of the Indigenous corporation Tlicho Investment Corp & Group of Companies said this year the warm winter at the start and if there is a warmer end of the season or an early spring, it could risk an early closure.

“So when you’re nibbling away on both sides of that, you start to create a very short season,” Gruner said.

The Winter Road is jointly operated by Burgundy Diamond Mines, Rio Tinto and De Beers of Anglo American group, which run the Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kue diamond mines respectively.

De Beers and Burgundy Diamonds said operations at their mines have not been affected by the mild winter. Rio Tinto declined comment.

The Winter Road costs C$25 million ($18.54 million) to operate for two months, which is shared by the three companies based on goods transported on the road and distance traveled.

However, the mines have a operational life of around 20 years and as they reach the end of life, they need to be shut down.

Rio Tinto has said it will close the Diavik mine in 2026 and De Beers plans to shut Snap Lake end of this year, while seeking to extend the life of Gahcho Kue.

Chicken and egg
Canada’s remote Arctic region, home to around 86,000 people, is facing the complete closure of all the diamond mines by 2030 and is looking for ways to keep mining alive.

The lack of infrastructure is a challenge and the shortened seasonal use of the ice road could hurt investments needed to mine critical minerals.

“If you’re in the exploration phase … and looking at using the winter road as part of your core business model, the risks start to come into … your decision making whether or not to advance a project,” Tlicho Investment’s Gruner said.

Hoefer of NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines said the two Northern territories, which are as big as Europe, have the highest infrastructure deficits in Canada – one of the reasons for the very high costs of living and doing business in the North.

“It is a chicken-and-egg situation, the mining companies probably won’t come unless there is some infrastructure, it’s just too expensive,” said Heather Exner-Pirot, director of Energy, Natural Resources and Environment program at Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

It costs C$3 million a kilometer to build gravel roads, Pirot said.

Mining groups are pushing for a mega infrastructure project that connects NWT to Nunavut that runs through the diamond mines could help unlock the mineral riches in the region. At least 23 of the 31 critical minerals listed by the Canadian government is found in the NWT.

“When the project comes up, it would replace the roads that have served mining for 40 years, but until that happens, the ice roads are required,” Hoefer said.


Rio Tinto sells stake in Canadian diamond project, ups interest in copper

Rio Tinto is reshuffling its interests in two Canadian projects as the global miner seeks to focus on assets considered key for the world’s transition to a green economy, such as copper and lithium.

The company has decided to sell its 75% interest in the Fort à la Corne diamond project in central Saskatchewan to joint venture partner Star Diamond Corp. in exchange for shares in the junior.

As a result, Rio Tinto Exploration Canada will own a 19.9% stake in the exploration and development company.

Rio Tinto’s head of exploration Dave Andrews said the company was now “firmly focused” on identifying opportunities in metals and minerals that support the energy transition.

“We are grateful to Rio Tinto for the significant monetary investment and expertise it has contributed to the project over the past more than five years, which has meaningfully advanced what Star Diamond believes is one of the most promising diamond projects in the world,” president and CEO Ewan Mason said in a statement.

Rio Tinto’s move follows years of tension between the partners over the terms of their development agreement. The situation saw both companies face off in court and, at one point Star Diamond considered cutting RTEC out of the project.

The partners reached an agreement on the subject in December 2021, after which RTEC put the project on hold until it could determine whether it wanted to continue or exit the venture. The camp was demobilized, and the project put on care and maintenance in the first quarter of 2023.

Copper and lithium
Rio Tinto has also moved to increase its stake in Canada’s Western Copper and Gold Corporation (TSX: WRN), which is advancing the Casino project in the Yukon Territory.

Under the deal, RTEC is acquiring 3,468,208 common shares at a price of C$1.73 per share, or about C$6 million ($4.4m) total. This increases Rio Tinto’s ownership to 9.7% of Western’s outstanding common shares.

Vancouver-based Western Copper and Gold, which remains the sole owner of the Casino project, said it would use the proceeds of this fresh investment to fund specific areas of study with the aim of progressing through permitting to a development phase of the proposed mine.

“We are pleased that Rio Tinto has elected to continue to invest and work with Western to advance the Casino project, with a focus on furthering infrastructure development and streamlining the regulatory process,” CEO Paul West-Sells said in the statement.

Rio Tinto chief executive officer Jakob Stausholm recently said in an interview that the company continued to look for ways to increase exposure to key minerals and metals, particularly copper and lithium.


151 ct Yellow diamond recovered at Canada’s Arctic Circle

oronto-listed Mountain Province Diamonds will next week put on sale an “exceptional” coloured rough diamond, which it recovered from the Gahcho Kué mine, in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

The diamond, a 151.60 t octahedron of exceptional clarity, will be offered for sale alongside a selection of more than 90 individual special rough diamonds recovered from the company’s Canadian diamond mine.

The upcoming sale represents the biggest offering of +10.8 ct gem quality diamonds offered by the company to date.

“This important diamond represents a clear example of the Gahcho Kué mine’s ability to consistently recover high-quality gems of exceptionally large size. These gems are highly coveted by collectors around the globe not only for their beauty but increasingly, for their Canadian origin,” commented VP for diamond marketing Reid Mackie.

Source: miningweekly

Rio Tinto Buys Remaining Share of Diavik Diamond Mine

Rio Tinto office in Montreal, QC, Canada

Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest miner, just became the sole owner of the Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories on Thursday. Despite saying in the past the Company was not interested in taking full control of the aging arctic mine, Rio Tinto ended up buying the 40% share held by Dominion Diamond Mines for a total stake of 100%.

Part of the transaction includes Rio Tinto releasing Dominion and its lenders from any outstanding liabilities or obligations involving funding the operation or the closure of the joint venture. On the other end, Rio Tinto will receive all remaining Diavik assets held by Dominion including a security cash collateral for the potential future closure for the mine and unsold production.

Why the Buyout Now?
Dominion, which used to be the fourth-largest diamond producer, suffered some financial troubles which played out in court over several months last year. These troubles ultimately led Dominion to sell its other Canadian mine, Ekati in December 2020. In 2017, The Washington Companies ended up buying the Company for $1.2 billion.

This deal follows a 19 month long process beginning in April 2020 by Dominion Diamond Mines filing for insolvency protection under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.

Diavik has been in production since 2003 and is eventually facing closures in 2025 which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fully clean up. Diavik is Canada’s largest diamond mine, and yielded 6.2 million carats of rough diamonds in 2020.

Rio Tinto Minerals boss Sinead Kaufman said in a statement, “Diavik will now move forward with certainty to continue supplying customers with high quality, responsibly sourced Canadian diamonds.”

Worries and concerns began to surround the diamond market due to production coming to a

halt during the global COVID-19 pandemic, with some people worried the market would never recover. However, Alrosa, the world’s top diamond miner by output, claims the market has fully recovered from the effects of the global pandemic, and sales of jewelry and rough diamonds are up 23% this year compared to 2020.

Source: miningfeeds

Stornoway Diamond granted creditor protection

stornoways diamond mine

Stornoway Diamond Corp. of Montreal has been granted protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act from the Superior Court of Quebec while the company restructures its business and financial affairs.

Protection is extended to subsidiaries Stornoway Diamonds Canada, Ashton Mining of Canada, and FCDC Sales and Marketing.

Stornoway has signed a letter of intent with creditors Osisko Gold Royalties and Diaquem, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ressources Quebec, concerning a bridge financing agreement entered into in June this year. The LOI confirms that the creditors intend to acquire all of the assets and properties of Stornoway and assume the debts and liabilities owed them as creditors. Stornoway will continue to be the operator of the mine 320 km north of Chibougamau in the James Bay region.

Osisko says that under the terms of the bridge loan, It will retain its 9.6% diamond stream on the Renard mine and continue to receive diamond deliveries. The proceeds of any diamond sales will be reinvested in the mine for a period of one year.

Osisko and certain of the secured creditors have also agreed to supply an initial C$20 million of working capital to Stornoway. The working capital is intended to keep the mine operating without interruption.

Last kimberlite trucked to plant at De Beers Victor mine

De Beers last truck

The last truckload of kimberlite from Ontario’s first and only diamond mine has left the pit. De Beers Canada said mining ceased on March 5 – 11 years to the day after the official opening in 2008.

The honour of driving the last truck went to Nancy Wesley, of Kashechewan First Nation. She worked at Victor for 11 years, as a haul truck driver, dozer operator and production drill operator.

Stockpiled kimberlite will keep the recovery plant running until early May.

The Victor mine was forecast to produce 6 million carats of diamonds over its life, but it beat that by recovering a total of 8 million carats – with a record 936,000 carats produced in 2018.

The project provided about 1,360 jobs and $3.7 billion of revenue to the province.