The Long and Icy Road

January 1999


The Long and Icy Road

The Ekati Diamond Mine was built under some of the most arduous conditions ever endured

Jewelers familiar with diamond mining history know miners almost always face adversity in getting to their prey. Miners have gone underwater off the coast of Namibia, underground in southern Africa's deserts and grasslands and all across frozen Siberia.

Canada's diamond mines promise even more challenges. The BHP Diamonds staff that built Ekati worked under time and climate constraints that would test the most hardened explorers. The biggest challenge lay on the only road to the mine, which was built on ice that forms over the countless lakes in the Northwest Territories and lasts only from mid-January to late March. After that, the aptly named Ice Road melts back into lakes and streams.

During each of these 10-week periods in 1997 and 1998, BHP contractors hauled over 2,000 truckloads of equipment and supplies that couldn't be taken by plane (there's a landing area near the mine that connects it with the rest of the world during the balance of the year). The work lasted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except during severe Arctic storms that closed the Ice Road for 10-12 days each year.

BHP devised an ambitious 18-month schedule to build the mine structures themselves. The permanent camp was built mostly in the dark during the first winter of construction. The additional buildings went up during the short 1997 sub-Arctic summer so the mine could be completed in climate-controlled indoor facilities during the winter of 1998.

There were still outdoor challenges to contend with, however. The Panda pit required a complicated water diversion project before development of the mine could begin. BHP built channels for Arctic fish to detour around where the water had been.

A detailed environmental plan required by the Canadian government ensures that when mining is finished at Ekati, the site will be returned to its pristine state, from restored animal, water and plant life to preservation of ancient archaeological sites sacred to local tribes. Even the Ice Road will grow quiet again as the rumble of construction vehicles becomes but a memory to the people who witnessed and helped build the Ekati mine.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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