Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Diavik Diamond mine by Rio Tinto and kimberlite waste issue, Northwest Territories, Canada


Description:

The Diavik Diamond Mine lays on the Lac de Gras lake, in Canadian Northern Territories. About 200 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, besides the diamonds, the bottom of Lac de Gras represents one of the most important and dedicated ecosystems in the world as well as indigenous ancient territories [2] [5]. 

Diavik comprises four diamond-bearing pipes that are mined using a combination of open pit and underground mining. The mine is managed by Rio Tinto and is owned by a joint venture between Diavik Diamond Mines (2012) Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto (60% ownership) and Dominion Diamond Diavik Limited Partnership, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dominion Diamond Mines (40% ownership) [3].

The mine was approved in 1999 and opened in 2003 [1]. In 2018, a fourth diamond pipe was opened. The new open pit pipe contributed to an important incremental extraction of the mine [3]. There are three of the most precious diamonds that the companies exploit from the mine, and collectively known as "The Diavik Stars of the Arctic". However, the most valued and the rarest diamond on the market is their Large Yellow Diamond, with the mine on average producing only five of these diamonds each year but earning the highest profit from [3].

However today, the company filed for an amendment to its water license with the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board last year that would allow it to fill three mined-out pits with processed kimberlite — diamond-bearing rock — which includes waste rock and tailings known as slimes. At the moment, processed kimberlite is piled into a containment facility in the middle of the island where the mine operates [2].

Argumentation for such a devastating environmental project, the Diavik says is due to storage area shortage which won't last until the mine is set to close in 2025" [2].

First Nations communities are not happy about the decision and are still calling for a full-panel environmental assessment of the mine. Leaders such as Chief Felix Lockhart of the Lutsel K'e Dene, say the environment minister has ignored the concerns of First Nations people and acted irresponsibly. "We're also talking about future mining endeavours upcoming" [1]. 

The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board conducted an environmental assessment of the proposed plan, saying more information is needed on how adding mine waste to the pits could affect fish, wildlife and traditional use by Tlicho and Akaitcho Dene [2]. "It's different from what was originally planned in 1999. You have to get the new thing considered as carefully as the first thing" [2].

First Nations representatives, the federal and territorial governments and Diavik will jointly determine the scope of the environmental assessment because the First Nation's concern was raised that the processed kimberlite could contaminate water in Lac de Gras when the dikes are breached. "Much more information is needed to prove the scientific modeling is sound" [2].

"Their proposal is that they will deposit all of the processed kimberlite into the underground and they will fill it up with water — they say it will never mix, or flip" ..."Then for five years after active closure, they're going to monitor that water inside the dike and after five years if they determine that water is safe, they'll breach the dike and it'll become a greater part of Lac de Gras" [2]. 

First Nations are still concerned, "A lot of what they're proposing relies on permafrost being there, and with climate change, the permafrost isn't going to be there anymore [2]. 

An alternative proposal by the company is to store the processed kimberlite by raising the dam walls of the existing processed kimberlite containment facility and building additional on‐land containment sites. It is to say, to expand the areas where the waste will be placed [2]. 

The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board opened the opinion for the public hearing, in which Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada provided $300,000 to individuals and groups to help them to participate in the environmental assessment [2].

The report was completed in 8 months,  and, unfortunately, on January 6, 2020, the project was approved by the Board [4]: 

"The Review Board recommends the Project to be approved subject to implementation of the measures described in the Report of Environmental Assessment. These measures are necessary to prevent significant adverse impacts on the environment [4]: 

To ensure that water in the pit lake(s) meets new water quality objectives, it is important to: collaboratively develop criteria for judging if water will be good for cultural use; Update its water quality modeling; Establish an independent review panel to improve updated modeling; Conduct additional and more effective engagement with potentially affected Indigenous communities. 

 The Review Board believes this concern is reflective of the real and important impacts that this project might have a pressing issue that was discussed during the environmental assessment, about the drastic decline of the Bathurst caribou herd. The Review Board believes the Project will not lead to impacts on caribou, and therefore will not contribute to the decline [4].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Diavik Diamond mine by Rio Tinto and kimberlite waste issue, Northwest Territories, Canada
Country:Canada
State or province:Northwest Territories
Location of conflict:Lac de Gras
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Specific commodities:Diamonds
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Diavik Diamond Mine began production in 2003 and has been a fully underground mining operation since 2012. For the fourth mine only, opened in 2018, a four-year construction period and an investment of approximately $350 million was conducted and shared by Rio Tinto and joint venture partner Dominion Diamond Corporation [3].

However, mine tailings or waste the company plans to deposit in pits, is processed kimberlite — a fine, wet kimberlite dust that can act like quicksand and pose a hazard to caribou and humans. The company says the plan will also cut capital costs and reduce risks associated with closing the mine. Alternative options for storing the processed kimberlite include raising the dam walls of the existing processed kimberlite containment facility and building additional on‐land containment sites [2].

The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board approved the project [4] [5].

Project area:2,470
Level of Investment:350,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/1999
Company names or state enterprises:Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from Australia
Dominion Diamond Corp from Canada
Relevant government actors:The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Tlicho First Nations https://www.tlicho.ca/government/our-story
- Akaitcho Dene First Nations https://www.eia.gov.nt.ca/en/priorities/concluding-and-implementing-land-claim-and-self-government-agreements/akaitcho-dene-first

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Tlicho and Akaitcho Dene
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Objections to the EIA

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Soil erosion, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Displacement, Loss of livelihood

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:No alternative from opposing First Nations group was considered in this case. The project was approved and the only alternative considered was the technical "solution" of the company that would rise the dam walls and keep the risk of waste spilling in the waters.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Unfortunately since 1999 the First Nations are opposing the mines (four of them by the year 2018). Now the company also got the "green light" to leave the waste on the indigenous land, rivers and lakes.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[5] EA1819-01 Report of Environmental Assessment and Reasons for Decision for Diavik Diamond Mines Inc’s proposal to deposit processed kimberlite into pit(s) and underground
http://reviewboard.ca/upload/project_document/Diavik%20EA%20Letter%20to%20Minister-%20FINAL.pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] CBC 1999: Rift develops over N.W.T.'s Diavik diamond mine
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/rift-develops-over-n-w-t-s-diavik-diamond-mine-1.171575

[3] Rio Tinto Official website: The Diavik Diamond MIne
https://www.riotinto.com/operations/canada/diavik

[2] CBC 2019: Diavik Diamond Mine wants to dump mine waste into its pits
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/diavik-new-environmental-assessment-1.5100907

[4] CBC 2019: Hearings into Diavik's dumping plans expected at end of July

Other documents

The Diavik Stars of the Arctic trio (diamonds exploited) Source: Rio Tinto collection on Flickr
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Screenshot_2020-01-12_at_13.13.25.png

Diavik mine evolution stages Source:
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Screenshot_2020-01-12_at_15.53.23.png

Akaitcho Dene territories Source: Akaitcho Dene Official website
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/akaitcho_map.png

The Diavik Diamond Mine in winter. Source: Mining and Energy
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/DiavikDiamondMine630.jpg

The Tłı̨chǫ territories Source: Wikipedia The Tłı̨chǫ
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/200px-NWT_Settlement_Locator_Tlicho.svg.png

The Diavik Diamond Mine in summer Source: Mining Networks North
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/20170816-0B3A1152.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:ENVJUST PROJECT (KH&JMA)
Last update12/01/2020

Images

 

The Diavik Diamond Mine in winter.

Source: Mining and Energy

The Diavik Diamond Mine in summer

Source: Mining Networks North

The Diavik Stars of the Arctic trio (diamonds exploited)

Source: Rio Tinto collection on Flickr

Akaitcho Dene territories

Source: Akaitcho Dene Official website

The Tłı̨chǫ territories

Source: Wikipedia The Tłı̨chǫ

Diavik mine evolution stages

Source: