Rio Tinto has officially opened its Argyle underground diamond mine in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The move from open pit mining to an underground operation will extend the life of Argyle until at least 2020 with the average annual production over the life of the underground mine likely to be 20 million carats.
According to Rio Tinto, the US$2.2 billion underground mine uses the latest in block caving technology and is the first of its kind in WA.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony which was attended by WA’s minister for mines and petroleum Bill Marmion as well as traditional owners and Rio Tinto executives and employees, Rio Tinto diamonds and minerals chief executive Alan Davies said the Argyle mine had produced some of the world’s most spectacular diamonds and had delivered many benefits to the local region since exploration began in the 1970s.
“The new Argyle underground mine has allowed us to extend the life of this iconic asset for Rio Tinto and Western Australia,” he said.
“I am proud that we can continue our contribution to local employment and the economic development of the East Kimberley region, as we have over the past quarter of a century.”
The Argyle mine has produced some 800 million carats of rough diamonds over the last 25 years including a small but consistent supply of the world’s rarest pink diamonds.
With 70 per cent of the workforce living locally, Argyle is one of the largest contributors to the East Kimberley economy.
Argyle Diamond Mine managing director Kim Truter said the mine is a world class resource which has been strongly supported by Rio Tinto.
“A new chapter begins at Argyle and I am proud to acknowledge the many men and women who have contributed to the discovery and development of the mine and the production of some of the best diamonds the world as ever seen,” he said.