The environmental impact of diamond mining depends largely on the way diamonds are mined. The three methods of diamond mining are described below.
[Methods of Diamond Mining]
1) The first method is digging pipe mines. This method is used for large-scale mining in areas such as South Africa and Siberia. This method requires large machinery to dig tunnels anywhere from a few hundred meters to one kilometer deep into the earth. Diggers mine kimberlite, a host rock of diamonds.
2) The second method is mining alluvial deposits. Alluvial deposits are found along river beds and coastal shores. They are formed when diamonds contained in volcanic deposits flow into rivers, due to weathering or erosion, and accumulate in sand and gravel along the river basin. These deposits then flow into the ocean and are carried to the shore by waves. Finally, diamond deposits of coastal alluvium are formed. The alluvial deposits are commonly found on the coast of South West Africa. This method of mining requires diamond diggers to use bulldozers, power shovels and vacuum suction equipment.
3) The third, more primitive, method is called “panning” or “washing”. Local residents dig gravel along riverbeds, put it in big flat bowls and wash it with river water in order to find rough diamonds. This method is common in areas such as West Africa and Brazil.
[Environmental Impacts of Diamond Mining]
As mentioned above, large machinery is needed in digging pipe mines and alluvial deposits. Corporations supervise these types of mining sites. In recent years, these companies have gained ISO14001 certification (an international standard related to environmental management systems) and built systems to improve the environmental effect caused by diamond mining. Using these methods can minimize the environmental impact of mining in a lasting way. Since the mining sites are concentrated in one location, companies can easily oversee and control the operation of the sites. However, the ISO international standard lacks concrete rules for measuring environmental performance, so it is left to the companies to evaluate their own performance.
However, artisanal and small-scale miners using the “panning” method of mining pay little attention to the environment. In Liberia or Sierra Leone, for example, difficulties in clearly demarcating the mining areas, prevent miners from supervising the work site. In addition, the uncertainty of who owns the land often causes miners to have less motivation to continue to utilize it and to protect it. Therefore, miners are often involved in environmentally-unfriendly mining which spoils the land for their own immediate benefit and leaves the land ruined, abandoned and unusable for agricultural purposes.
[i] “DIAMOND MINING AND THE ENVIRONMENT FACT SHEET,” Diamondfacts.org,
http://www.diamondfacts.org/pdfs/media/media_resources/fact_sheets/Diamond_Mining_Environment_Fact_Sheet.pdf (Retrieved on March 22, 2015)
[ii] Rob Bates, 2007, “Does Diamond Mining Hurt the Environment?” http://www.jckonline.com/article/282346-Does_Diamond_Mining_Hurt_the_Environment_.php (Retrieved on March 22, 2015)