Part 2: The World’s Most Remote Mines
Elsewhere in western Australia, one third of the world’s annual production of diamonds is mined at the Argyle and the Ellendale diamond mines.
The Argyle Diamond Mine, owned by Rio Tinto, is located in the East Kimberley region in the remote north of Western Australia. It was discovered by geologists in 1978 who discovered diamonds while prospecting in Smoke Creek.
A year later, a massive, diamond-studded deposit of lamproite (as opposed to the more common kimberlite) ore was discovered.
The mine was constructed between 1982 and 1985 with alluvial mining starting in 1983 and open mining starting two years later.
Because Argyle is located 185 kilometres by road from the nearest settlement (Kununurra), a residential camp was constructed on site to house most of the 520 workers. Most of these men and women commute from Perth, over 2,000 kilometres and alternate two week shifts at the mine.
Argyle is the largest diamond producer in the world by volume, but is not the leader by value due to the low proportion of gem-quality diamonds.
Argyle is also the only known significant source of pink diamonds, producing over 90% of the world’s supply. It additionally provides a large proportion of other naturally coloured diamonds, including champagne, cognac and rare blue diamonds.
Argyle currently operates an open pit mine and a processing plant 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The AK1 open pit is 2 kilometres long, 1 kilometre wide and covers an area of almost 300 hectares.
After 20 years of open pit operations, Argyle began the transition to underground operations in 2005, although market conditions have led Rio Tinto’s board to halt progress on commissioning the underground development work. The expansion plan is expected to cost $2.1 billion.
Most recently, Rio Tinto has announced plans to sell its interests in all diamond activity.