While many segments of the Saskatchewan resource development world, such as metals mining and fossil fuels exploration and production, have encountered some difficulties due to declining general commodity prices, one important area of Saskatchewan’s mining industry is not only remaining intact, but is actually enjoying a period of renewed excitement – diamond exploration and development.
The world of diamonds is divided into two general categories: diamonds for jewellery and those directed toward industrial uses. And, as it happens, the outlook for both segments appears to be positive.
Worldwide demand for jewellery diamonds has been growing thanks to a steady increase in the number of wealthy individuals who can afford expensive diamond jewellery. One industry journal recently noted, “…The demand for diamonds continues to grow as the world population now exceeds seven billion people and consumer demand from rising global incomes looks to diamonds for both pleasure and investment.”
Lest anyone doubt that the world of diamonds is big business, we also learn, “…De Beers (the world’s largest diamond company) reports that the global demand for jewellery was up by three per cent in 2014 to US$81 billion.”
But jewellery is only one part of the diamond demand equation as industrial-grade diamonds also have numerous important applications. These include construction; machinery manufacturing; stone cutting/polishing; transportation systems and very fine diamond saws. In addition, and quite ironically, many of the drills used in diamond mining exploration use bits containing numerous industrial-grade diamonds.
Saskatchewan’s diamond exploration activities have been centred in a geologic region known as the Archean Saskatchewan Craton and began in 1988 with the discovery of potentially diamond-bearing rock known as kimberlite in the Sturgeon Lake region about 30 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert, a discovery which led to the identification of the Fort a La Corne (FALC) kimberlite province.
Shore Gold Inc. has been active in the FALC vicinity since 1995 when the company acquired its initial claims in the area. Shore’s exploration work has led the development of three separate projects; Star Orion-South, Star Diamond, and the FALC-JV.
Star-Orion South is the most advanced project and a feasibility study was completed in 2011. This was followed by the forwarding of environmental impact statements to both the federal and provincial governments. The federal one has gained approval while the provincial one was still pending a decision in early fall 2014. In early September 2015, Shore released results of a recently-concluded 12-hole diamond drilling program.
While activity in the Fort a La Corne area has been the focus for many years, a new and exciting development is taking place within Saskatchewan diamond mining and that is a strong burst of activity in the Pikoo mining district. Over the past two years, a virtual “rush” mentality has emerged as numerous companies have moved into the Pikoo area.
Stornoway Diamond Corp. initially acquired claims at Pikoo in February and March 2011, as an area of interest within the Saskatchewan Craton. During the summer of 2011, Stornoway initiated a high-resolution airborne geophysical survey at the Pikoo property, located about 220 kilometres northeast of FALC. Subsequent follow-up sampling confirmed the potential for multiple kimberlites or kimberlite clusters localized within a 15 kilometres by 20 kilometres source area.
Since Stornoway’s primary area of interest was their Renard Property in Quebec, they decided in 2013 to enter a participating joint venture agreement with North Arrow Minerals, Inc. whereby North Arrow would acquire an 80 per cent interest in the project in return for completing specified exploratory work.
North Arrow’s initial work identified two areas of particular interest named North Pikoo train and South Pikoo train. Both areas were tested in July 2013, via a 2,000-meter drill program and when the results of this program became widely known, the rush was on as the drilling identified the existence of a new diamondiferous kimberlite field.
North Arrow has continued exploration and in spring 2015, conducted a drilling program at areas known as PK150 and PK312 which produced results which were sufficiently optimistic to cause North Arrow President and CEO Ken Armstrong to comment, “These new diamond results from PK150 are consistent with those reported from the 2013 discovery drill holes and confirm PK150 as a significantly diamondiferous kimberlite…Planning is underway for a detailed follow up geophysical program in advance of a winter drilling program to further delineate PK150 and the other kimberlites on the property, as well as to test new targets.”
Copper Reef Mining Corp. recently acquired two claims at Pikoo, identified as C2 and C3, from CanAlaska Uranium Ltd. The two claim areas are located just east of the village of Deschambault and north of the Hanson Lake Highway.
Another company entering the area following the 2013 North Arrow announcement is Canadian International Minerals, Inc which staked 67,350 hectares north of Pikoo comprised of six separate claim blocks known as the Reindeer River Claims. The company announced it is presently reviewing information from earlier airborne surveys which had identified a number of potential kimberlite targets and was also exploring the potential for kimberlites south of Pikoo.
A list of other public companies involved in Pikoo include Alto Ventures Ltd. which has acquired land holdings totalling 90,000 hectares in the Pikoo vicinity through staking, purchases and entering an Option Agreement; Athabasca Nuclear Corp. which holds an 80 per cent interest in the 9,270-acre Prongua Lake Diamond Project located to the north, east, and northeast of the North Arrow Mineral’s Pikoo project; and Strike Diamond which holds sizeable positions north of North Arrow and Alto and announced in mid-September 2015 that they were conducting an airborne survey in order to ultimately generate drill targets for the purpose of kimberlite testing.
The current time frame appears to be one of particular opportunity for Saskatchewan diamond mining since it has been reported that demand for diamonds is expected to grow faster than supply in coming years. As mining analyst Paul Zimnisky recently observed, “ global diamond demand is expected to grow at 5.9 per cent annually through 2020, while supply is only expected to grow at 2.7 per cent over the same period of time.”
Should this prediction come true, it appears likely that Saskatchewan’s diamond mining industry could witness a period of increasing exploration and development.