Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson's discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories formed the basis of the Ekati mine. Courtesy of Dominion Diamond Corporation

Dominion Diamonds’ expansion into the Jay kimberlite pipe at its Ekati property has completed another regulatory step, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson’s landmark discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories in the autumn of 1991, which eventually formed the basis of the Ekati diamond mine and launched the diamond mining industry in the territory.

The territorial government accepted the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board’s recommendation to approve the expansion. The review board had required a few additional measures to mitigate public concern and potential negative environmental impacts, including a design that would minimize harm from roads and dust to local caribou populations; improve the proposed strategy to employ women; and use traditional indigenous knowledge to design and operate the mine.

The final step in the environmental review process is to file water license and land use permit applications. Dominion Diamond, which owns a majority interest in the Ekati mine, said in a May press release the applications would be filed “shortly.” The Jay project could extend Ekati’s mine life by 10 to 11 years.

Ekati is not the only operation making strides in the N.W.T. Mountain Province, a co-owner of the Gahcho Kué open-pit mine, announced in early May the project is 94 per cent complete and is on track for first production in the second half of the year. (De Beers owns 51 per cent of the mine.)

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Gahcho Kué is expected to produce an average of 4.5 million carats per year. Over its 12-year mine life, it is expected to produce 55.5 million carats from a Probable Reserve of 35.4 million tonnes. Also in May, the Diavik diamond mine reached the 100-million-carat milestone. The operation began in 2003 and work will begin next year to develop a fourth kimberlite pipe on the property.

“The impact of the Northwest Territories on the global diamond industry for the last 25 years has been significant, and De Beers is committed to continue our long-term presence with the opening of Gahcho Kué later this year,” said Tom Ormsby, a spokesperson for De Beers, which also operates the Snap Lake diamond mine. “It is well-positioned with its Proven Resources to ensure that N.W.T. remains a major player in the diamond industry.”

The industry had an impact on the territory over the past quarter-century, according to the territorial government’s 2015 report on community impacts. (Working with the territory to produce the annual report is one of the requirements the Ekati, Diavik and Snap Lake diamond mines must fulfill to operate in N.W.T.) Fewer residents rely on welfare programs, and more residents are continuing with their education, the report stated.

In the last tax year, diamond mines paid $44 million through corporate income tax, fuel, property and payroll tax; this amounts to about a third of the territory’s total tax revenue and an 11 per cent increase from the previous year. One eighth of resource revenues in the territory is sent to indigenous organizations.