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DIAMOND MINING AND THE ENVIRONMENT FACT SHEET
The formal diamond mining industry constantly strives to strike a balance between its
economic, social and environmental responsibilities, while making a positive and lasting
contribution to the environment and communities in which it operates. However there is also a
large amount of informal alluvial diamond digging – which is not currently regulated and
therefore neither is its impact on the environment. This document, as the majority of diamond
mining is formal, focuses on the environmental impact on this sector.
To recover diamonds, the industry is using modern mining methods and a more clinical
approach to sustainability of mining and therefore the impact on the environment is being
minimized while the benefits to the communities and countries where they are found are being
maximized. These benefits are particularly true in Africa, where the prudent harnessing of
natural resources by government is one of the fundamental platforms to help countries develop
and pull their citizens out of the poverty cycle that blights much of the African continent.
The Diamond mining industry faces environmental challenges
It must be recognised that mineral extraction by its very nature of mining does have the
potential to impact the environment unless carefully managed. The key challenge is Land
Disturbance; Diamond mining uses a variety of methods, some of which involve the removal of
large quantities of soil from the earth. However it must be remembered that it is economically
beneficial to recover the greatest amount of diamonds while moving the least amount of other
material. Therefore diamond mines seek to have the minimum sized footprint, and move only
that necessary material (known as waste) efficiently.
Modern day best practice calls for a full review of the plans for removal, storage and return of
this topsoil/waste and the environmental impact it will have to allow the area to return to its
In addition to land disturbances there are a number of other associated challenges:
• Energy use and emissions
• Waste and recycling
• Use of water
• Impact on Biodiversity
However, importantly, diamond mining unlike other industrial processes and types of mining
does not use hazardous material.
Today most modern diamond mines are managed to the ISO 14001 standards of
environmental management, and the major companies have a policy of regularly publishing
reports on their environmental performance. Many of the major diamond mining companies go
beyond the ISO 14001 standard and use Environmental Impact Assessments and Social
Impact Assessments to identify the environmental and social impacts of mines as well as to
identify gaps at their operations. Generally, conducting these assessments is a legal
requirement used by local authorities before permission to mine is granted. Predicting
environmental and social impacts from the outset enables planners ways to identify reduce
potentially negative impacts on the environment and then to shape the negative impact on the
local environment and harness the positive impacts.
Engaging with the community is an essential part of assessing environmental impact.
Governments, local communities and non-governmental organisations all play a key role in
identifying local issues, as well as influencing environmental management within the industry.
By engaging day-to-day with these groups, the diamond mining industry benefits from shared
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knowledge, constructive dialogue and improved relationships. This is fundamental to robust
and successful environmental management.
Increasingly, governments and NGOs across the world are recognising the diamond industry’s
efforts to minimise its environmental impact. In many cases, they are joining forces with the
diamond mining industry to develop effective and sustainable safeguards for their mining
Mining challenges and management process
The different environmental impacts from different types of mining
Every diamond mine will have a slightly different environmental management plan, because its
effect on the environment will differ according to its geographical, social and ecological
situation. The location of the diamond mine and mining methods will also have an impact on
the management plan. Here are the different types of mining and how their impacts are
The environmental impact of the land exploration involved in diamond mining is minimised
in several ways:
Vehicle tracks are reused
Minimal amounts of soil are cleared during drilling and sampling
Topsoil from exploration sites is refilled and replaced
• Open pit and underground mining
In open pit mining, geological structures called Kimberlite pipes (funnel-like tubes of rock
which extend far into the depths of the Earth) are mined to extract the diamonds. Because
they are so deep and so old (the youngest known Kimberlite pipes are several tens of
millions of years old), they are found in the ground often beneath overburden (such as
sand and soil). This kind of mining can be done near the surface and up to, and in some
instances, over 1km below ground.
This means that large quantities of surplus waste rock, sand, soil and processed
Kimberlite can accumulate in the immediate vicinity of such areas which need to be
managed accordingly and rehabilitated.
Plans are put in place by the mining companies for the removal, storage and return of this
topsoil/waste to return the area to its previous state.
• Coastal and inland alluvial mining
When diamond deposits are found in coastal areas, mining companies may be required to
remove soil and plant life before they begin mining. Mining of beaches and inland alluvial
diamond deposits can also require the removal of overburden (such as sand and soil) and
the construction of sea-walls. This kind of mining does result in large-scale excavation
along coastal areas and modification of the land.
However, once the mining is complete, soil and plant life is replaced and the visual impact
and the impact on the surrounding land is removed over time by wind and wave motion. In
areas with very low rainfall, special techniques are used to re-vegetate the area.
• Marine mining
Diamond deposits are sometimes found on the seabed, seabed matter needs to be
removed from marine diamond mining sites to access the diamonds beneath. To minimise
the impact on the environment, the seabed matter is replaced in its original position.
Research has shown that over a period of years, fish and marine mammals return to the
mined seabed area.
• Informal diamond digging
Small-scale informal alluvial diamond digging (artisanal diamond mining) is usually
undertaken by individuals, families or small groups operating with the simplest equipment,
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such as sieves and pans, to search for the diamonds. The majority of small-scale alluvial
diamond mining is defined as ‘informal’ because it is undertaken on land which is neither
licensed nor regulated for the mining activities taking place. Due to the very nature of this
mining, it has little or no regard to the environmental impact or associated impacts on
biodiversity and future agricultural land use. The formal diamond industry is seeking to
formalise and develop a more ecologically sensitive approach to informal diamond digging
through the Diamond Development Initiative. A Pilot was recently announced in Tanzania,
involving Governments, Diamond companies, NGOs and the local community. The aim of
the pilot is, if successful, the pilot can be extended to other parts of Africa where informal
Environmental challenges associated with the formal industry
• Energy use, air quality and pollution
Diamond exploration and mining use two forms of energy: electricity and hydrocarbons
(diesel, marine gas, oil and petrol).
A by-product of both electricity and hydrocarbon energy is the release of carbon
emissions1 into the air, such as CO2 (a naturally occurring gas).2 Carbon emissions are
considered to be a major factor in global warming and climate change.3
Industrial activity (including the production and use of electricity) creates emissions –
greenhouse gases – and other chemical (synthetic and natural) substances. These are
released into the air and cause a range of environmental problems, from climate change to
smog, which threaten our health and our environment. Reducing energy consumption
helps to protect the planet.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes are widely used across the diamond
mining industry. Emission levels are monitored through energy and carbon emission
Mines have reduced their energy use by introducing a range of schemes: installing timers
on boilers, shutting off pressurised fans over weekends, running mud pumps in off-peak
periods and introducing battery-powered vehicles that do not emit harmful gases.
Furthermore, solar panels and energy-saving schemes have reduced the amount of
electricity used at mines.
Mining company BHP Billiton has established an Energy Smart Program at their Ekati
Diamond Mine in Canada's Northwest Territories. This programme has saved the
equivalent of one million litres of diesel fuel per year since its inception.
Since 1996, the principal electrical energy source for Argyle Diamonds in Western
Australia has been the Ord River hydroelectric power generator, which supplies up to 94%
of Argyle’s electricity. This initiative has realised greenhouse reductions of approximately
70 kilotonnes per annum.
• Waste and recycling
1 In this context, emissions refer to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over
a specified area and period of time. Outside of this context, emissions can refer to any
substance released as a by-product of industrial or commercial activity.
2 Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product of burning fossil fuels and other industrial processes. It
is the principal human-made greenhouse gas that affects the Earth’s radiative balance.
3 Climate change is a change in climate that is attributed either directly or indirectly to human
activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural
climate variability observed over comparable time periods. Sometimes climate change is
referred to as global warming, although this is only one part of climate change.
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Diamond mines are no different from any other large industrial operation: their wastes can
include oil, paper, scrap metal, batteries, tyres and small quantities of plastic and glass.
To ensure that all types of waste are monitored and minimised, the diamond industry
continues to investigate ways of reducing waste and increasing re-use (e.g. in the case of
tyres used for the likes of road marking) and recycling (e.g. of scrap metal).
For example, waste materials are separated into categories at the mine to ensure
appropriate disposal and recycling.
Over the last few years, a particular effort has been made to recover and recycle oil and
grease. Used oil is mainly sent off-site for recycling, but at Namdeb some oil is recycled
immediately at the mine site.
• Water: protecting water quality and minimising consumption
Diamond mining uses water, rather than chemicals, for extraction, but of course, water is
scarce in many parts of Africa, where diamond mining companies often operate.
This makes it even more important that the diamond mining process does not pollute
natural water sources and that it uses as little as possible.
The industry needs to conserve water in every way it can through reduction, recovery, re-
use and recycling. There are strict targets for usage, which are carefully monitored;
alternative water sources are investigated; and recovery and recycling programmes are
put in place.
• Biodiversity: nature’s need for balance
The term ‘biodiversity’ refers to the existence of different kinds of plants and animals on
earth, from humans to wild plants and animals and even farm animals and crops. Human
activity can pose a threat to nature: the need for different kinds of plants and animals to
exist side-by-side. Diamond mining takes place in a wide variety of environments across
the world – from Canada to Africa. In Africa alone, diamond mines exist in a wide variety of
ecosystems - the African Savannah [in southern Africa], the Karoo Biome [in South Africa],
the Namib Desert and the Benguela marine ecosystem [in Namibia].4
Minimising mining’s impact on these ecosystems starts at exploration, continues
throughout the mining process and carries on after a mine has been closed.
When a mining company moves into an area to mine for diamonds, the native plant life
around a site is harvested and the seeds replanted. This keeps the native species around
a site healthy and unaffected by the mining process, and protects local biodiversity by
maintaining plant life (that is part of the wider local ecosystem). To do this diamond mining
companies work with the Millennium Seed Bank (run by The Royal Botanic Gardens at
Kew Gardens in London, UK) on a global seed conservation programme which collects,
conserves and researches the world’s seed-bearing plants.
Protecting local wildlife can be a harder challenge as animals are sensitive to change, and
so the diamond mining industry runs and supports numerous wildlife conservation projects.
Mining company Rio Tinto protects and promotes biodiversity at its Diavik Diamond Mine
in the Northwest Territories of Canada by monitoring environmental impact through an
Advisory Board, which was set up when mining began there in 2003. One of the Board’s
projects is a research study to protect fish species found at the mine site. The fish are an
4 The term ‘ecosystem’ essentially refers to the relationship between living organisms and their
non-living environment. It is about the link between different species and physical and climatic
factors. Ecosystems are constantly changing and evolving in response to environmental
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important source of food for the local indigenous communities. As a result of the
programme’s success, the scope of the work has been widened to include water quality
and monitoring the native arctic deer population.
The diamond industry has established a number of Nature Reserves, where there are
breeding programmes for rare and endangered species which have introduced antelope,
disease-free buffalo and white rhino calves into the population. Programs have also been
set-up to re-introduce native wildlife, including the African elephant, wild dog and black
The diamond industry has worked with the South African National Parks and Peace Parks
Foundation to develop a trans-frontier park (a protected conservation area that straddles
international boundaries) incorporating large areas of land around the Venetia diamond
mine in northern South Africa.
In Western Australia, Argyle Diamonds works with Aboriginal elders to ensure that mining
areas are rehabilitated and plant species provide food and produce for the local
community. Furthermore, local Aboriginal people are regularly employed in the seeding
process and in other rehabilitation activities.
An example of how the diamond industry uses ISO 14001 benchmarks for
De Beers was an early adopter of ISO 14001, having its first mine certified in 1998. All
except one of De Beers’ mines and a number of other sites including exploration ventures
and laboratories and the Diamond Trading Company are currently ISO 14001 certified,
while all of the remaining mines should be certified this year. In 2000, the South African
Department of Minerals and Energy introduced a new award scheme for Excellence in
Mining Environmental Management (EMEM awards). De Beers has received a number of
these awards at different mines.
An example of how the diamond industry uses advanced planning to minimise
In 2002 EKATI Diamond Mine, owned by BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. and two geologists
Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson, a team of highly motivated employees founded the
Energy Smart Program. In the year to June 2006, the program saved approximately 1.5
mega liters of diesel fuel, which saved the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 1,600
cars from the road. The program has reduced the environmental impact of the site, raised
the consciousness of employees about energy efficiency, and reduced costs. It
demonstrates that by raising energy efficiency awareness we can all contribute to cost
savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
An example of the how diamond industry works with the community to mitigate its
The Diavik mine in Canada is jointly owned by Rio Tinto plc and Aber Diamonds
Corporation. Diavik mine entered into an Environmental Agreement which was developed
with local Aboriginal groups, and the federal and territorial governments. Concluded in
March 2000, the agreement formalizes Diavik’s environmental protection commitments,
establishes reclamation security requirements, and provides transparency and oversight to
Additional sources of information
Diamond Facts www.diamondfacts.org
US Media Contact
International Media Contact