De Beers halts exploration of diamond mine near Attawapiskat, Ont.

The De Beers diamond company has ceased exploration of the Tango extension near the Victor mine in the James Bay lowlands due to local pushback.

Bulk sampling of mine extension may be pushed back as First Nation voices concerns

A De Beers Canada spokesman says exploration of the Tango extension is the most cost-effective way forward as the Victor mine enters its sunset years. (Rita Celli/CBC)

The De Beers diamond company has ceased exploration of the Tango extension near the Victor mine due to local pushback.

The Victor mine is located in the James Bay lowlands of northern Ontario, and is the province's only diamond mine.

DeBeers is hoping to extend mining operations into a nearby deposit called Tango, but first needs to determine its feasibility. The company said the exploration is required as the Victor mine enters its final years. 

Tom Ormsby, a spokesman for De Beers Canada, said the company has halted its plan to take a bulk sample of the new mining grounds.

The work will be delayed until next winter if it doesn't get done soon, Ormsby said, adding this "last batch of exploration" requires 100 days while the muskeg is frozen to do the work necessary.

The Attawapiskat First Nation is divided in support of the project, which is located on traditional land in northern Ontario roughly 90 kilometres west of the community. Last month, a sacred fire was lit on the winter ice road by protestors to voice concerns about economic and environmental issues associated with the mining project. 

The Tango extension near the Attawapiskat First Nation would serve to lengthen the life of diamond mining in the James Bay lowlands. (DeBeers)

But Ormsby noted that pursuing the Tango expansion is the most cost-efficient scenario for De Beers as the Victor mine is set to close in 2018 and any production delays would make the project more expensive. The extension would serve to lengthen the life of diamond mining in the James Bay lowlands.

"If the sample is not able to be taken this year, and it's pushed out to another year, then we would likely see modelling of the mine life [pushed back by] at least a gap of probably a year," he said.

The extra costs of a potential pushback of mine operations will have to be taken into account when deciding how to move forward, Ormsby added.

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon said in a post published on Facebook that the community and the company have learned from the Victor mine that there is a better way to conduct business.

"It is unfair for De Beers Canada to tell the community it's either a yes or a no ... or no Tango," he wrote. "The ultimatum has created division and animosity in the community and the region, too."

Soloman indicated Tango could be an opportunity for reconciliation with the mining company.

"Investment is good — if it produces good results for all of us," he added.

Ormsby acknowledged lessons have been learned.

"We set out to try to do this in such a transparent way that the experience, hopefully, will be one that builds confidence and knowledge for both sides," the De Beers spokesman said.

Ormsby concluded that if work doesn't happen this winter, there will likely be a gap between the end of work at the Victor mine and potential development at the Tango extension.