Program Speaker

Douglas Irving, a professional geologic engineer, spoke to the New Mexico Faceters Guild on the mining potentials of several countries that he had visited, in particular, Canada and Madagascar. Working for Chapman, Wood, and Griswald of Albuquerque since 1947, Douglas Irving explored the mining potential in parts of western Canada, Australia, Mexico, Ghana, and Madagascar. His firm investigates the mining feasibility for uranium, gold, copper, lead, zinc, and diamonds.

Doug addressed the diamond mining in western Canada and showed an example of a piece of kimberlite pipe. He said that the first kimberlite in western Canada with a significant diamond content (very rich; one carat per ton) was discovered in 1991. Doug is well-acquainted with the two geologists, Charles Phipke and Stewart Blusson, who are credited with the famous discovery of diamonds at Ekati Lake after a ten year hunt. The mining area there, run by DiaMet Minerals, occupies a vast section of land just below the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. The Indians there call the area “Lac de Gras”, comparing the glaciated, quartz-veined area to “ekati”, or caribou fat. This rich deposit is now yielding high quality diamonds.

The open pit mine at Ekati Lake along the McKenzie River operates all year, even under the harsh conditions of an Arctic winter. Doug stated that the mining complex is very specialized for extremely cold weather. He said that supplies are flown in or trucked in on ice roads.

Doug explained how the kimberlite pipes in western Canada lie beneath lakes. These lakes had been gouged out by glaciers, exposing the softer kimberlite rocks. Diamonds are brought up from the earth’s depths to the surface in eruptions through cracks and fissures in the rock fragments known as breccias. These breccia form craters that erode away into circular areas known as diatrem.

In searching for diamonds, Doug illustrated how geologists study the geo-chemistry of garnets and chrome diopside, as tracings of garnets and chrome diopside can indicate diamond deposits. The ratio between the chrome content and a high magnesium presence indicates diamond in the kimberlite pipes. Geologists also study the diamond stability field in the keels of a craton, the deep-seated kimberlitic rocks. Doug said that diamonds have been estimated at 50 million to one billion years in age, even up to one to three billion years of age.

Doug mentioned that BHP of Australia has installed a diamond sorting laboratory in Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and is also looking into establishing a diamond cutting operation. Australia remains the world’s largest producer of industrial grade diamonds. Australia’s Argyle mine also yields diamonds in pinks, powder blue, and shades of brown that are marketed as “champagne, cognac, and coffee” colored diamonds.
Doug said that the kimberlite pipes in Botswana cover an area of 400 to 500 acres and are considered to be the world’s best for quality and content. DeBeers reports a yearly profit of 750 million dollars annually from there.

Doug announced that the Kelsey Lake Diamond mine in northern Colorado is for sale. Although several very fine diamonds have been discovered from the Kelsey Lake mine, mining operations have not proved profitable. Doug said that a feasibility study of the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, which involved core drilling, revealed that the park would not be an economical commercial venture. Visitors are welcome to collect rough for a fee in the Arkansas mine. However, Doug said that no visitors are permitted at the Colorado mine.

Doug traveled to Madagascar, 250 miles from Mozambique in southeast Africa, in search of commercial mineral deposits. He said that Madagascar was a very poor country with beautiful sandy beaches. His slides revealed a land of rolling hills with hardly any trees. Doug checked the beaches along the coast of Madagascar for ilminite. He showed slides of small-scale family gold digging operations that would allow people a meager existence. He said that most of the gold is not declared and is smuggled out of the country to avoid taxes. Once under Russian rule, Madagascar’s educational system closed after the Russians left. It is now open, Doug said, but nearly a generation has been left without any schooling. He fears that this will impact Madagascar’s future in a very negative manner.

He also traveled to Ghana on the west African coast, also known as the Gold Coast. He explained that DeBeers ran an off-shore diamond mining operation in Namibia, where the beaches were dredged and sifted much like a placer gold mining operation. The beach deposit runs 85 kilometers long. Doug also showed slides of the remote gold camps. He mentioned that the famous deep green dioptase from Tsumeb, Namibia, has all been mined.

Paul Hlava accompanied Doug Irving on an assessment trip into Mexico for wollastonite a few years ago. The Mexican geologists and workers wanted to give Paul and Doug names that corresponded to their equivalent in Spanish. They called Paul “El Bigote” in honor of his handle-bar moustache. However, the only appropriate name in Spanish that they could find for Douglas was “Sin Perro”, meaning “without a dog” or “dog-less”.

Canadian Geologist Gives Money to Alma Mater
Source: National Jeweler December 1, 1998

Stewart Blusson, one of the two geologists credited with the discovery of diamonds in western Canada and who shares ten percent ownership in the Ekati mine, donated $32 million to his alma mater, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The donation is earmarked specifically for scientific research. The provincial government of British Columbia and the Canadian Foundation of Innovation must match each dollar donated.
{Douglas Irving mentioned this large donation. He remarked that it was a way for Stewart Blusson to get his revenge and some personal satisfaction for compelling the matching funds from the University of British Columbia and the Canadian government just for research only.}

Better Times Lie Ahead for Mozambique
Source: The Economist December 5, 1998

Mozambique was once the second poorest country in the world. War, foreign occupation, and several civil conflicts battered the country. Since peace has returned and state farms have been privatized, Mozambique recently showed an economic growth of near eight percent. A new aluminum smelter is under construction, new beachfront resorts show profits, and farms have increased yields.

Most people in Mozambique live in the countryside, where there are few roads. Landmines still litter the land, and occasionally a farmer will step on one. Sixty percent of the schools were destroyed or closed during wartime, but nearly all of them have since been rebuilt. Over half of the adult population is illiterate as a result of the schools being closed for such a long time. Around eighty percent of the people live in deep poverty.
{Douglas Irving discussed these conditions found in Mozambique. His slides showed a poor country with people living in destitution. He foresaw economic potential for Mozambique if the country were given loans and expertise on development from investors outside the country.}

Cutting Operations Begin In Yellowknife
Source: JCK December 1998
Sirius Diamonds of the Northwest Territories is establishing a facility to cut and polish diamonds from Ekati’s production. Sirius plans to market Canadian mined diamonds, cut by Canadians, and sold throughout Canada.
{Douglas Irving mentioned this new development. He remarked that this could provide another choice for Canadians and Americans to purchase diamonds from markets closer to home.}