Gold and Diamonds: The Social and Environmental Impacts of Mining for the Diamond Ring

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Gold and Diamonds: The Social and Environmental Impacts of Mining for the Diamond Ring

MPA Conference 2007

Katharina Marcin

Nicholas Ruder

Table of Contents

Introduction 2

Life Cycle Assessment 3
Major Environmental Impact Summary 7
Mining Sustainability Initiatives 7
Canadian Policies and Regulations 11
Cases: Leaders and Laggards in the Mining Industry 13
The Canadian Mining Experience 17
Major Stakeholders 20
Recommendations 23

Eliminating Mining from the Life Cycle: Golden Circle Jewellers 24

Conclusion 26

References 27
Appendix A 31

Appendix B 32

Gold and Diamonds: The Social and Environmental Impacts of Mining for the Diamond Ring

In order to explore the mining industry in Canada from a perspective that affects us through a symbol of love, unity, and value, the diamond engagement ring has been chosen as the example of how our desires affect the social and natural environment of mines around the world, as well as in Canada. The diamond engagement ring is not necessary to our survival; we do not depend on it for transportation, better lifestyles, electricity, or any other necessity. The diamond ring is a purely superficial object that our society values enormously thanks to very effective marketing campaigns. Given the high social and environmental impact of gold and diamond mining on millions of peoples’ lives around the world, it is important to start questioning the importance of “bling,” and whether diamonds really are a girl’s best friend.

The gold and diamond industry is an important economic resource for many countries. Most gold mined is converted into jewellery which has been highly valued for over 8000 years. The second largest market for gold is the electronics industry, because gold does not easily corrode, and is highly conductive. This industry accounts for 8 percent of global demand for gold.1 Most gold mines (90 percent) in Canada are open-pit, and hard-rock underground operations. In terms of gold production, Canada is ranked eighth in the world, and exports $3.6 Billion a year. Canadian mine production has decreased in the last several years, but world demand continues to creep up. The rise in gold price has not affected Canadian producers as much as can be expected in 2005, because of the high Canadian dollar, and higher energy costs associated with mining operations.2

The diamond industry in Canada is currently worth $2 Billion.3 The first Canadian diamond mine is the Ekati mine in the Northwest Territories. The second is Diavik, which produces more than Ekati. Three other mines are set to open in the near future in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, which will rank Canada third in world diamond production after Botswana and Russia.4 Mining operations are not the only source of employment in Canada from the diamond industry; new cutting and polishing facilities have opened up north, in addition to pre-existing facilities in southern Canada. The Canadian diamond industry currently employs 4000 people directly and indirectly, 40 percent of whom are Aboriginal at Ekati and Diavik.5 Currently Canada produces 15 percent of the world’s diamonds, but has 80 percent of the world’s “excellent” or “ideal cut” makes.6

Life Cycle Assessment


The major components that comprise a diamond ring are diamonds and gold. Lesser components that are present but in low and variable amounts are: copper, nickel, silver and zinc. All of these elements and the processes associated in their acquisition will be taken into consideration for this Life Cycle Assessment, which can be broken down into five broad stages: exploration, extraction, processing, manufacture and retail, use and re-use (See Appendix A).

Phase 1: Exploration

The exploration phase of the life cycle assessment is considered a preliminary phase of the mining process. A small fraction of exploration projects proceed to the extraction phase. For this reason exploration is rarely taken into consideration in a life cycle assessment of products in the mining industry.7

The processes involved in exploration include: geological surveys, geophysical surveys, trenching and drilling. Geological surveys generally involve mapping, surveying and prospecting. The geophysical surveys can include airborne (helicopter and/or airplane) and ground surveys. The trenching process is the stripping of overburden with heavy equipment to expose underlying bedrock. Depending on remoteness of the area, road construction may be needed for access for drilling and trenching equipment.

The exploration for metals and diamonds uses energy, water and land resources.8

The energy used to power equipment, electricity and fossil fuels varies with the type of process. Large amounts of fuel are used in the advanced stages of exploration to power equipment (e.g. generators, excavation equipment, helicopters, and airplanes). Water is used throughout this phase, most intensively in the trenching and drilling for washing and drilling fluid, respectively. Varying amounts of tree cutting and soil disturbance can be attributed to exploration activities, most notably the clearing of forest for roads and trails, and the stripping of soil and vegetation for trenching.9

Air emissions are a significant output for this phase of the life cycle. Helicopters, airplanes and heavy equipment consume large amounts of fuel and thus expel CO2 into the atmosphere. Trenching and drilling produce considerable amounts of waste soil, rock, and water.

Land disturbance and water contamination are the biggest environmental concerns involved with mining exploration. The cutting of trees, stripping of soil can have serious implications for soil erosion, which can also lead to increased sediment in water bodies and may be harmful to fish and fish habitats10. Fluids and drill cuttings from the drilling process can also pose a risk to water systems if not disposed of properly. In more advanced exploration projects the amount of fuel and electricity used could be considered a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and global climate change.

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