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Alaska diamonds: a glitter of hope resides in Alaska's mining fields.

Though Alaska lives long in the public memory as the place of golden promises, it's the sparkle of diamonds that leads some modern-day prospectors north. Alaska is among locations nationwide and in Canada where diamond exploration is increasingly making its presence known in the kinetic mining industry.


Next door, the Northern Territories of Canada blushed with a full-bore diamond boom in the 1990s, while exploration popped up in other historical mining hotspots like Alaska and Colorado. The New York Times in 1996 chronicled the diamond comeback in the United States after a 75-year drought in interest. Just this fall, industry magazines headlined stories of large-scale Canadian diamond company consolidations and bids for increased and more efficient diamond exploration.

The Canadian boom was headlined by the massive EKATI Diamond Mine, located 300 kilometers north of Yellowknife in Northwest Territories. The mine produces nearly 4 percent of the world's current diamond production by weight and 6 percent by value, according to the Web site of BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc., a joint venture partner in the effort. BHP Billiton controls 80 percent of the mine holdings, along with discoverers and geologists Charles E. Fipke and Dr. Stewart E. Blusson, each holding 10 percent. The diamond mine was repeatedly in the news this year as it negotiated a high-profile labor dispute.

While gold and other lucrative minerals still capture top billing, diamond exploration has been slow and steady through recent years, as exemplified by Canada's diamond production showing. But it's not just Alaska's neighbor to the east that sees progress. Last year, companies spent $7.4 million in Alaska on exploration for "platinum-group-element ultramfic deposits, epithermal gold deposits, epithermal uranium deposits, diamond, and other deposit types," according to "Alaska's Mineral Industry 2005: A Summary," authored by D.J. Szumigala and R.A. Hughes and published earlier this year for the state Division of Geological & Geophysical Survey. The profile includes a synopsis of diamond exploration sites, including the following:

"A joint venture between Golconda Resources Ltd., Shulin Lake Mining Co., and Shear Minerals Ltd. explored the Shulin Lake property for diamonds," according to the state report. "Five holes were drilled to test three magnetic anomalies interpreted as being potential pipes.... Nine samples with a total weigh of 5,261 pounds were submitted to SGS Lakefield Research for testing and contained one micro-diamond and diamond indicator minerals in a volcanic tuff sequence.... Golconda staked additional claims and dug three 6-foot-deep pits in a circular negative anomaly of about 0.6 miles in diameter."


The lure of diamond dust has been bandied around mining circles for years following the Canadian explosion of diamond production in the 1990s. In 2002, under the name of Yukon Energy, Mines and Resources, authors Scott Casselman and Bill Harris of Aurora Goesciences Ltd. and Midnight Mines Ltd., respectively, published a paper that sought to collect personal narratives and available facts regarding diamond findings in Canada and Alaska. The paper included reported "diamond occurrences" in northern locations with names familiar in the region's historic mining folklore. Colorful place names like Bonanza Creek, Dawson; Jack Wade Creek, Alaska; Turk Creek, Alaska; and Crooked Creek, Alaska; where three diamonds were reportedly discovered in separate incidents over a period from 1982 through 1986-all three reportedly discovered during cleanup activities. The State of Alaska issued a subsequent paper confirming the Crooked Creek diamonds' high quality and analyzing possible origins far upstream from the finds.

Though the authors of the Yukon Energy, Mines and Resources paper acknowledge their material is anecdotal and to be used for informational purposes only, their paper "Yukon Diamond Rumor Map and Notes" speaks to the expectant hush of anticipation that accompanies any news of a potential diamond find. "Since the Klondike gold rush, there have been a number of rumors of diamond finds in the Yukon and anecdotal evidence of diamond exploration activity and discoveries of kimberlite and lamproite (the rock types on which diamonds occur). Most of the diamond finds were reported by placer miners, having discovered the glassy gems in their concentrate."

In turn, the paper acknowledges the not-so-quiet interest in such incidental finds through the years. "It has become apparent while conducting this research that most of the diamond discoveries in the Yukon have occurred by accident, mainly by placer miners serendipitously coming across the gems while examining their cleanup," the authors note. "It is also apparent that senior diamond exploration companies have been interested in these finds."
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Title Annotation:2006 Mining Special Section
Author:Colby, Nicole A. Bonham
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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