A 157.4-carat diamond recovered at the Gahcho Kué mine in 2020. CNW Group/Mountain Province Diamonds
Northwest Territories diamond production reached an all-time high by value in 2022 according to new projections from Natural Resources Canada.
The data was highlighted by the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, which noted the figure for last year was “up significantly” on recent years that were affected by both the Covid-19 pandemic and financial difficulties at the Ekati diamond mine.
In 2022, the territory’s three working diamond mines together produced diamonds worth $2.17 billion, NRCan projected, a 28-percent or $477-million increase on 2021 and a new record high.
The 2022 figure may never be beaten, depending on the performance of NWT mines and the broader diamond market in 2023 and 2024.
By 2025, the Diavik diamond mine has said it will began ramping down some of its operations ahead of full closure in 2026.
Ekati and the third mine, Gahcho Kué, each expect to operate for some years beyond that and their owners have said they are exploring opportunities to extend those mines’ lives.
However, the NWT government has acknowledged that its economy needs to gravitate toward a future beyond diamonds, given the territory has no new diamond projects at any significant stage of development.
The question of late has been: what should that future be?
While outgoing Premier Caroline Cochrane has said mining must remain a key pillar of the NWT’s economy – “we have the technology, we have the global interest in critical minerals, I think the future will be positive,” she recently told Cabin Radio – it’s hard to point to any part of the mining sector immediately ready to take over as diamonds decline.
Some exploration companies are pushing a return to gold, which powered Yellowknife through the latter half of the 20th century. Others are exploring for lithium to the east of the city, a metal considered important to batteries and, consequently, the growing electric vehicle industry.
But so far, no other mining projects appear set to replicate the success and value of diamonds. Meanwhile, The Northern Miner reported this week that Robert Friedland, billionaire founder of Ivanhoe Mines, said his company was developing battery solutions that would “kill” the kind of lithium business that most Canadian junior mining companies are pursuing.
And the owner of the small-scale Nechalacho rare earths mine east of Yellowknife has abandoned its attempts to build a processing plant in Saskatchewan, while scrapping a deal with a Norwegian buyer for Nechalacho’s output.
A small number of other mines are advancing toward development in the NWT, like Pine Point east of Hay River, Nico near Whatì and Prairie Creek in the Dehcho. So far, it’s not clear if or when those mines will become operational.
Though the territory’s tourism industry has had to weather successive crises in Covid-19 and this summer’s wildfire season, the conservation sector is also showing signs of becoming an economic driver for the NWT.