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ALROSA geologists exploring Africa for diamonds

27 october 2014

victor_ustinov_fullsize.jpgViktor Ustinov is Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences and Deputy Director of the Geological Research Unit at ALROSA in charge of the New Areas Evaluation Department (Saint Petersburg).

In 1982-1986, he worked as geologist with the Arctic Expedition of Sevmorgeologiya exploring and prospecting for placer gold and cassiterite in the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago and New Siberian Islands. As a senior geologist since 1986 and later as a lead research fellow he headed the Thematic Group at the Diamond Department of the All-Russia Research Geological Institute.

Starting fr om 1993, Viktor Ustinov was Chief Geologist with Swiss-based Tissot Gems exploring Guinea (Conakry) for diamond deposits. Then there were Ghana, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone and later Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola.

Since early 2002, he has been employed at the Geological Research and Exploration Unit of ALROSA in Saint Petersburg. In his interview to Rough&Polished Victor Ustinov told about his business trip to Africa.

You have just returned from a business trip to Africa. What are the latest developments in exploration carried out in Botswana?

In the territory of Botswana, one of the world’s leading diamond-producing countries, there are well known mines, the largest of which are Jwaneng and AK 1 (Orapa) owned by Debswana. The AK-6 (Karowe) diamond field in the north-east of the country is particularly noteworthy - the price of diamonds recovered there has surpassed all expectations and is the highest in the world. According to Lucara’s spokespersons, the diamonds produced by the company in the first half of 2014 reached an average price of almost $ 580 per carat.

Most of the fields are in open areas and characterized by fairly simple geological conditions. Lately, exploration works shifted to closed areas wh ere kimberlite bodies are buried. A few years ago, Petra Diamonds already found a very interesting kimberlite pipe (KX-36) at a depth of 78 metres. I'd like to note that the search for buried deposits is more expensive and requires the use of specific methods.

ALROSA is conducting exploration in the Siberian and East European provinces for diamond deposits buried at considerable depths and we are familiar with the complicated exploration issues arising in such situations.

Those who use underground resources in Botswana are quite involved in their activities and there are extremely few areas available for licensing. ALROSA geologists started their operations in this country quite a short while ago. We can say that we are beginners in Botswana.

Our readers are very interested to know about the joint venture established by ALROSA and Botswana Diamonds. What exactly is Sunland Minerals doing and which exploration programs does it pursue?

ALROSA and Botswana Diamonds, having joined their efforts within Sunland Minerals, are engaged in exploration works going at full swing in Botswana and intended to find kimberlite bodies. There are five licensed areas (PL 206 - PL 210) at our disposal, which are located at a distance of 25 km to 60 km from Letlhakane in close proximity to the country’s largest diamond mining area, the Orapa kimberlite field. They were sel ected based on an analysis of the available set of geological and geophysical data taking into account the existing ideas about the placement of primary diamond deposits.

Within the licensed areas, the company is testing primary concentrates, selecting crushed samples from the conglomerates belonging to the Kalahari formation and performing magnetic studies. Field works are currently going on with the participation of experienced geologists from Russia and Botswana.

Last September, the company completed drilling operations within the licensed area of PL 117, which is located 3 km from AK-6 (Karowe), as I have already mentioned. Four wells were drilled on two anomalies and they were singled out due to their mineralogical data, results of ground magnetic studies and electric logging.

One geophysical anomaly was caused by basalts. On the other anomaly, using a set of methods there were detected several veins (5-10 cm thick) of strongly altered brecciated rocks that are different from the host basalts. The company will carry out the necessary analytical studies to determine if these rocks are possibly associated with kimberlites.

Are there any plans to create a joint venture in Zimbabwe? When and how can it be done?

The works in Zimbabwe are being carried out under a technical cooperation agreement with DTZ-OZGEO. We performed reconnaissance operations in the areas belonging to the company. In case of positive results, there may arise the need to establish a joint venture.

I would like to say that Zimbabwe has a quite high potential of primary and alluvial diamond-bearing formations. 

What kind of exploration techniques is used on African diamond fields? Are these the methods used in Siberia and adapted for Africa? What computer programs do you use there, and so on? How much are they different fr om those used by ALROSA geologists in Yakutia?

Any territory has its own specific characteristics with regard to climate, tectonics, the age of primary sources, their erosion peculiarities and manifestations in geophysical and mineralogical fields.

We use a wide range of existing methods developed by diamond geologists. This involves the analysis of the conditions, which shaped the dispersion of kimberlite minerals, the use of geophysical programs for processing materials developed and applied by ALROSA within various diamond-bearing provinces.

Do (or can) the latest developments in the global economy and politics - in particular, the foreign exchange and other factors - affect the cooperation of ALROSA and that of other Russian companies in the field of geological exploration (and other fields)?

Our plans and budgets are prepared in advance and we are currently working within the approved projects.

Galina Semyonova, Rough&Polished