The Diavik Diamond Mine operates in one of the most untouched and ecologically sensitive environments in the world. A vast tundra surrounds the mine and is home to bears, wolverine and migrating caribou. The waters of Lac de Gras are pure and teeming with fish and bird life.
Over one-third of the Northwest Territories is covered by lakes and rivers and in spite of its apparent abundance water is considered a precious resource, especially by Aboriginal peoples. It provides habitat for much of the wildlife that is critical to the traditional lifestyles of local communities. The caribou, whose herds can number in the hundreds of thousands, play a key role in Aboriginal culture and spirituality and caribou remains a staple in the diets of many Aboriginal people. These and other environmental factors have had to be carefully taken into account to ensure the Diavik Diamond Mine has minimal environmental effects and that its operation fits in with the needs of local communities.
The Diavik Diamond Mine meets its environmental protection commitments through a comprehensive management system. This system is ISO 14001:2004 certified, and is responsible for:
- managing activities to protect the environment
- ensuring that all of Diavik's employees are properly trained
- anticipating and hence avoiding environmental problems
- ensuring regulatory compliance and due diligence
- ensuring consistency with the business' corporate environmental policy
Diavik has taken on a number of initiatives in environment protection and sustainable development.
A small portion of the Bathurst caribou herd passes through the Lac de Gras region during spring and fall migrations. To protect caribou migrating near the Diavik Diamond Mine, all haul roads have caribou advisory signs to ensure caribou and other wildlife have the right of way. Annually, Diavik monitors caribou within the region with the assistance of Aboriginal elders from local communities.
Rain and snowmelt from the island has naturally entered the lake over centuries. The preservation of water quality in the lakes and drainage systems is important to the Dene and Inuit communities, who expressed their great sensitivity to sustaining the environmental quality of land and water. To protect water quality, Diavik constructed an extensive water collection system to help protect the surrounding lake waters. Through sumps, piping, storage ponds, and reservoirs, Diavik collects run-off water, which is used in processing and can be treated before being released to the environment.
The main repository for water collected in the mine is the North Inlet storage area. Water is collected here and then pumped to the water treatment plant -- a key component of the mine's water management system. After treatment to remove suspended solids, the water is released into Lac de Gras.
To ensure that the pollutants are not released into the lake, Diavik has also put in place the Aquatic Effects Monitoring Program. Under this program, lake water is sampled and analyzed at regular intervals and at set locations over the complete range of depth, both at times of thick ice cover and during open water.
The construction of rockfill dikes to access the three ore bodies under the lake meant that the Diavik Diamond Mine had to occupy less than 0.5 per cent of the area of Lac de Gras. Though only a small portion of the lake has been borrowed for the mine, this operation removes some fish habitat. To help compensate for this loss, Diavik has constructed a coarse rockfill on the outside of the A154 dike, which provides new fish habitat. During mining, rock shoals are being built inside the dike area to create fish habitat upon the mine's closure. When that happens, the area behind the dikes will be flooded, the dikes will be breached to locate islands, and the area returned as part of Lac de Gras. As per Canadian Fisheries Regulation, there will be no net loss of fish habitat.
Diavik is 'cleaning up as it goes' through a process of progressive reclamation, using knowledge gained through community consultation, to prepare the mine site for eventual closure. Examples of such reclamation include the contouring of country rock piles to create smooth hills that allow caribou safe access and the creation of new fish habitat. Revegetation studies, and waste rock management are other key projects being conducted as part of the progressive reclamation.
Diavik has entered into an Environmental Agreement with local Aboriginal groups, and the federal and territorial governments. Concluded in March 2000, the agreement formalizes Diavik's environmental protection commitments, establishes reclamation security requirements, and provides transparency and oversight to local communities.
Furthermore, under a Socio-Economic Monitoring Agreement between Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. and the Government of the Northwest Territories - an agreement to which the five neighbouring Aboriginal groups are signatories - Diavik funds an Environmental Monitoring Advisory Board to provide advice and oversee environmental issues. The majority of members of the Board are appointed by Aboriginal communities - a first in Canada.
Diavik developed and supports a Community Traditional Knowledge Camp, located adjacent to the mine site. The camp runs every summer and involves the five neighboring Aboriginal groups. As part of these camps, elders, adults and youth representing local communities participate in workshops that blend traditional knowledge with science. Studies include fish palatability, water quality monitoring, and caribou monitoring.
Diavik is a responsible developer, committed to full and complete closure of the mine site. It has put very high closure security in place, as established in the Environmental Agreement. The value of this security is revised regularly to adjust for the projected environmental liability and its associated cost of closure versus efforts the company has made to progressively reclaim the site.
Research for sustainable development
Diavik, in participation with Canadian universities and researchers, undertake numerous scientific studies focused on environment and geology at the mine site. This includes research into effects of mine blasts on fish, evaluations of potential plant species for reclamation, and monitoring of dust distribution using lichen as a bioindicator. The results of these research projects are published and help Diavik to generate the best adaptive management and reclamation practices.
Diavik is also conducting research to determine the effect of arctic climate on diamond waste rock piles. The prevention and management of metal leaching and acidic drainage from mine wastes is a significant environmental issue facing the mining industry. Little is known about the environmental implications of storing waste rock piles in regions where there is continuous permafrost and the average annual temperature is below freezing. This research will facilitate long-term protection of the environment and has long term application throughout the world.