The Long and Icy Road
The Ekati Diamond Mine was built under some of the most arduous conditions
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.