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This year, ALROSA’s geologists will continue to search for new diamond deposits in Africa

08 february 2016

victor_ustinov_fullsize.jpgThe Department for Evaluation of New Areas at the Research and Exploration Company affiliated to ALROSA is based in St. Petersburg and deals with the forecasting and prospecting of diamond deposits in the North-East European Platform and in promising areas of Africa.

Viktor Ustinov, Deputy Director of the Research and Exploration Company affiliated to ALROSA, who is also heading the Department for Evaluation of New Areas told Rough&Polished about his company’s latest achievements in the search for diamonds in Africa.

What major results achieved by ALROSA lately could you highlight in its African activities?

In summary, they can be formulated as follows:

1) On the basis of systematic case studies, which are carried out by geologists of the Department for Evaluation of New Areas, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of diamond bearing potential in the territories of Botswana and Angola.

2) We have outlined areas, which are promising in terms of discovering primary diamond deposits.

3) Joint ventures are established in Botswana and Angola on the basis of the research.

4) Sunland Minerals started to work in Botswana and there have been completed four stages of prospecting, including primary concentrate sampling, ground geophysical surveys, drilling and others.

5) There have been completed four stages of field work in Zimbabwe under the Agreement on Technical Cooperation with DTZ-OZGEO.

6) An active licensing policy is being carried out in Botswana and Angola.


How do you assess the possibility of discovering new diamond fields in Angola?

The territory of the Republic of Angola is 1.2 million square km, which is close to the area of the Yakut diamondiferous province. Within it, there have been revealed about one thousand of kimberlite pipes, which are grouped into 11 areas and 35 fields.

It should be borne in mind that despite the number of identified geological bodies being greater than that in Siberia, the level of geological and geophysical exploration in Angola remains extremely low. The country’s potential in relation to bearing primary diamond deposits has not yet been revealed, and there are all the opportunities for finding new diamondiferous kimberlites. Only in 2012-2014, the geologists of Sociedade Mineira de Catoca identified such diamond fields as CAT 42, CAT 115, Luaxe 072 and Luaxe 071 in the area of the Catoca Diamond Pipe. The country has diamond resources belonging to the P1-P2 categories suitable for open-pit development and estimated at about 400 million carats.

What companies are you collaborating with in Angola?

Currently, working contacts between the geologists of ALROSA and Endiama are successfully developing within the framework of the Agreement on Technical Cooperation between the geological services of the two companies. Implementation of the existing agreements allows ALROSA to obtain valuable information on the geology, geophysics and diamond bearing potential of various territories, which makes it possible their quick assessment. As a result of the performed research, experts of the two sate-owned companies were able to update the Map of Diamond Bearing Areas in the North-Eastern Angola scaled 1: 500 000. Right now, we are mulling to establish mobile field teams, which will include experts from ALROSA and Endiama, for prompt assessment of diamond bearing potential in poorly researched or remote areas, which will lead to significant savings in time and money that is usually spent on licensing.

Interaction between the geologists of ALROSA and Catoca started in 2012 under the Agreement on Technical Cooperation between the geological survey service of Catoca and the Research and Exploration Company affiliated to ALROSA. During this time, they selected rock samples for laboratory analysis and sent rock collections to the laboratories of ALROSA, as well as to contractors for further research.

During 2016, we intend working in team with the geologists of Catoca to analyze the diamond bearing ability of the upper layers of Luaxe 072 based on their mineralogical data. It would be important to continue the comprehensive research of diamonds from kimberlites and placers in Catoca’s collection, which we started earlier for the Kwango and Kasai areas.

We also cooperate with other companies, which have shown interest in establishing contacts, as for example, the Association of the Galangue Project Companies. Cooperation with companies holding licenses and entitled to carry out field works, probing and rock sampling proved to yield good results in Angola in previous years.

When will Kimang, which is a joint venture of ALROSA and Ediama, start its operations?

In 2015, we drew up “The Project to Conduct Prospecting for Primary Diamond Deposits within the License Area of Kasango (Kwango)” and estimates. We also made the necessary set of graphical supplements. As a result of studies carried out by experts of the Department for Evaluation of New Areas, there were identified areas to be explored for primary sources of diamonds in the North-Eastern Angola, as well as given recommendations how this to be done. There were also suggested the first and second stages of exploration. Exploration works within the licensed areas of Angola are scheduled to begin in 2016.


And what was done by your company in Zimbabwe in 2015?

In 2014, Zimbabwe produced 10.4 million carats of diamonds, which puts the country on the third place in Africa in terms of diamond production by volume, after Botswana and Congo. There are more than 120 kimberlite pipes identified in this country, of which four pipes are rated as diamond deposits. Three diamond pipes are part of the Murowa diamond field and one represents the River Ranch mine. Placers containing significant resources (about 260 million carats) were identified in Marange. In addition, there is a small diamond placer in Chimanimani.

As a result of research performed in 2015, the territory of Zimbabwe was split into zones based on their exploration conditions, with identified types and subtypes of the landscape and geological exploratory environments and corresponding prospecting systems considered to be the most rational and effective for these zones. We also produced a zoning map scaled 1: 1,000,000 for the whole territory of the country reflecting the exploratory environments.

We have also charted a structural-tectonic map of Zimbabwe scaled 1: 2000 with diamond bearing elements based on a target-specific analysis of geological and geophysical data.

Our company did not perform any field works in the Republic of Zimbabwe in 2015. During the year, we carried out laboratory analysis of materials which have been accumulated during the field seasons of 2013-2014. We systematized the existing array of data according to the composition of chrome spinellides from the modern alluvium within the Devure, Nianidze, Chiniadadze, Chimanimani and Kharoni areas. Using analytical methods, we identified minerals of kimberlite genesis among chrome spinellides. The question pertaining to the location of their primary sources is still open.

During 2016, we shall define areas promising for identification of primary diamond deposits in the territory of Zimbabwe.

Tell us how the company is carrying out its projects in Botswana.

In 2014, Botswana produced 24.7 million carats of diamonds, which had an average cost of $ 156 per carat. Both in terms of volume and value of its diamond production the country is definitely the second-largest producer in the world after Russia.

Botswana has 13 identified kimberlite fields, including about 500 diamond pipes. Eight among them are diamond deposits: Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane, Damtshaa, AK6, BK11, Gope and Lerala. Every year, two of the world's largest mines, Jwaneng and Orapa, supply more than 20 million carats of diamonds to the world market. Four of the country's largest deposits (Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa) are owned by Debswana, the main shareholders of which are De Beers (50%) and the State (50%). It should be noted that the share of Botswana in De Beers is 15%.

A diamond field of greater interest is AK-6 (Karowe), which is in the southern part of the Orapa kimberlite field and happens to be one of the world’s "youngest" mines being developed. The AK6 pipe was discovered in 1969 by De Beers and considered off-balance. At the beginning of the 2000s it was additionally explored by African Diamonds (the predecessor of Botswana Diamonds, ALROSA’s partner) and then sold to Canada’s Lucara Diamond Corporation. Ore reserves of this small diamond deposit totaled 38 million tonnes at an average grade of 0.22 ct/t. The average price of diamonds + 1.5 mm in size from this mine reached $600 per carat in 2014-2015 and was the highest in the world. In the second half of 2015, Lucara reported it had unearthed gem quality diamonds weighing 374, 873 and 1111 carats at Karowe.


The data on diamond-bearing potential of the Republic of Botswana point to high prospects of identifying new diamond deposits, even within the previously explored territories.

ALROSA’s thematic works were carried out by experts of the Department based on a large number of geological and geophysical data, including materials from Botswana Diamonds’ database made available to us under the Agreement on Technical Cooperation.

Taking into account the mineralogical characteristics, structural and tectonic background and specific features of the deep structure it was possible to outline promising areas near the Orapa and Gope kimberlite fields. I would like to note that a large part of the country’s subsurface resources is in the distributed fund. More than 220 areas are currently licensed in the territory of Botswana, which means that its greater part is occupied by various companies and the possibility to have a desired area for exploration is to a large extent limited.

How do you assess the results of Sunland Minerals in Botswana in 2015?

Exploration works, involving geologists, geophysicists and mineralogists from ALROSA, Severalmaz and Botswana Diamonds, were carried out in two phases covering the March-April and September-November periods in 2015. Sunland Minerals’ experts completed a large amount of exploration on 7 license areas near the Orapa and Gope kimberlite fields. This included ground geophysical surveys, primary concentrate and crushed sample testing regarding the sediment formation of the Kalahari and Karoo Supergroup, as well as real-time mineralogical analysis, core drilling and other tests.

While drilling a geophysical anomaly for verification purposes within the PL 210 license area near the Orapa field it was found that its geological nature was conditioned by a body of pipe-shaped serpentinites uncovered at a depth of 90 m. Its source rock was represented by picrites, probably of Proterozoic age.

Based on the results of 2015, we shall compile a program of works for 2016. Currently, ALROSA and Botswana Diamonds are discussing the possibility of appraisal drilling on kimberlite pipes in the Orapa field. The license for the above operations was received by Sunland Minerals at a special tender organized by the Department of Mines in Botswana. The area is located within 8 km from the Karowe pipe noted for its most expensive diamonds in the world.

Field works in the first half of 2016 are scheduled to take place in the period from February to April. If the time given for planning and financing these works will be observed, we shall have the results by the end of June in 2016.

Thus, exploration in Botswana carried out by Sunland Minerals since 2014 include a wide range of prospecting operations. Employing skilled personnel working under contracts, as well as contractors from local companies to carry out drilling, repair and logistics services does not require a large camp or permanent staff.


And what can you say about other regions in Africa?

The aim of regional operations carried out in Africa is to ensure long-term planning for geological exploration performed by ALROSA and based on a comprehensive assessment of the diamond bearing potential incidental to promising areas of this continent. Therefore, our research embraces the West African, Central African, East African and South African sub-provinces of the platform.

In 2015, we carried out a comprehensive analysis of the deep structural and tectonic features of these territories, as well as space-geological, geophysical, mineralogical and other data for the explored areas and also the monitoring data on exploration and mining activities of companies specializing in diamonds. In addition to regional studies, we have researched the diamond bearing potential of Namibia and Sierra Leone.

Along with such areas as Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe, selected in accordance with the development strategy of ALROSA in Africa, areas promising in terms of primary diamond deposits can also be outlined in other regions, such as Congo and Tanzania.

An important aspect of ALROSA’s operations in new promising areas is the company’s interaction with the geological survey services in these countries and with those of major exploration companies. In 2016, ALROSA will continue its work in Africa.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished