June 29, 2016 / 3:37 PM / a year ago

De Beers gets approval to flood suspended Arctic diamond mine

TORONTO, June 29 (Reuters) - De Beers Canada can flood the tunnels of its underground Snap Lake diamond mine in the Northwest Territories under a revised suspension plan approved by the region’s land and water board.

The company is weighing whether to sell, close, reopen, or continue suspension at the money-losing Arctic mine, which was shuttered last December due to poor market conditions. Waning Chinese demand and an industry credit crunch have been hurting the sector.

Flooding the mine tunnels will cut costs to pump out water and reduce environmental risk, De Beers Canada said in its extended care and maintenance plan.

The temporary closure, approved on an interim basis pending required updates, could run for three or more years, depending on market conditions.

“The decision is helpful because it really helps us preserve ... a pretty significant resource in the ground,” said De Beers Canada spokesman Tom Ormsby.

Snap Lake, which has made no money since production began in 2008, produced 1.2 million carats in 2015 and was due to run until 2028.

The operation, which had 595 employees and 200 contractors before the suspension, currently has some 75 staff for ongoing care and maintenance work.

In its April application, De Beers Canada said it may investigate a remote water monitoring system, which would need no on-site staff. That would require separate approval, the board said in a decision posted on Wednesday.

Last October, De Beers Canada said new Chief Executive Officer Kim Truter would move office headquarters to Calgary as part of a broader restructuring to cut costs as diamond demand and prices waned.

De Beers Canada also operates the Victor diamond mine in Ontario, set to close in 2018 unless an expansion proceeds, and is building the Gahcho Kue diamond mine in the Northwest Territories with 49 percent owner Mountain Province Diamonds Inc .

Gahcho Kue is expected to start production in the next few months with a projected annual output of 4.5 million carats.

De Beers’ first mine outside Africa, Snap Lake is 220 kilometers (137 miles) northeast of Yellowknife.

De Beers is 85 percent owned by Anglo American and 15 percent by the government of Botswana. ($1 = 1.3003 Canadian dollars) (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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