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Associated Press

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming has a potential billion-dollar diamond mining business that no one seems interested in pursuing, according to Dan Hausel, a top geologist with the Wyoming Geological Survey.

Hausel said he cannot explain why there is not a diamond mine operating in Wyoming, especially when much of the state has been identified as having rich diamond potential, he told members of the Casper Rotary Club Monday.

Hausel suggested that the governor appoint a committee, including a marketing expert, to figure out ways to jump-start a diamond-mining industry in Wyoming.

The biggest diamond mine operation in North America is Lac de Gras in the west-central Northwest Territories of Canada.

"The companies working that site have invested over $700 million, because it is literally in the middle of nowhere," said Hausel, noting that a town for workers, roads and other infrastructure had to be built first.

With three more mines coming on stream, Hausel expects Canada to eclipse South Africa's production of diamonds in a decade.

Wyoming shares much common geology with Canada, Hausel said, with evidence of hundreds of kimberlite "pipes" in the state. Pipes are extrusions of molten rock that erupt, sometimes as fast as three times the speed of sound, from 120 miles deep in Earth's magma, and contain diamonds of gemstone or industrial-diamond quality, he said.

In a report to the state last year, Hausel and his fellow scientists said 20 diamondiferous kimberlites and one diamondiferous mafic breccia pipe have been identified in southern Wyoming.

They added that enormous portions of southern Wyoming, and essentially all of central and northern Wyoming, remain unexplored for diamonds.

The state is host to the two largest kimberlite fields - State Line and Iron Mountain - and the largest lamproite field, Leucite Hills, in the United States.

Kimberlite and lamproite are the only rock types that have been successfully mined for diamonds, Hausel said.

The nearest diamond mine, Hausel said, is the Kelsey Lake Diamond Mine just south of the Wyoming-Colorado state line, off state Highway 287.

Individual gems worth $89,000 and $300,000 have been found there, Hausel said.

There are both high-tech and low-tech techniques to finding kimberlite pipes, Hausel said.

A pipe erupts from the surface, leaving a round rock formation from a few feet to hundreds of feet wide. Often softer than surrounding rock, the kimberlite often erodes, leaving a depression that in wetter environments, such as the Northwest Territories, creates shallow, round lakes, he said.

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In Wyoming grasslands, a pipe can be found if there's an unexplained curve in grass species and height of grass, he said.

In Wyoming forests, trees don't grow over exposed pipes, Hausel said. Anthills can provide valuable clues about indicator minerals that tell a geologist that a pipe is nearby, he said.

People who cover a lot of ground on foot, like shepherds, can stumble upon valuable evidence or even gemstones, he said, citing one case in the Cedar Mountains area.

In a telephone interview Monday, Marion Loomis, Wyoming Mining Association executive director, said he has the same questions as Hausel "and no more answers."

"The potential is here and the geology is good," Loomis said. "We can't really expect coal or trona companies to get into the diamond business. What we need is to get some diamond companies to take a real interest in Wyoming geology."

That would be a worthy task for the Wyoming Business Council, Loomis said.

Tucker Fagan, executive director of the council, said several diamond mining firms have poked around southern Wyoming and northern Colorado.

"There's just not enough high quality or quantity of diamonds for a businessman to say he can make a go of it," Fagan said.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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