ANCHORAGE - Two Canadian companies have turned up a rare find in Alaska: diamonds.
The companies are financing a $1 million drilling operation in the Susitna Valley after a Palmer miner discovered purple and orange garnets in gravel he dredged up close to Shulin Lake.
Carl Tatlow of Palmer is a placer gold miner who discovered the garnets a few years ago close to the lake 24 miles southwest of Trapper Creek.
Geologists consider garnets "indicator minerals," suggesting that diamonds might be in the vicinity.
Tatlow and some friends, Roland and David Mullen - a father and son from Canada - formed Shulin Lake Mining Co. to hunt for more.
"When we found the indicator minerals in our placer mine, (we) knew that we were close," David Mullen said.
Seventeen microdiamonds, or fragments, turned up, and last October another round of drilling produced three more, Tatlow and Mullen said.
After his wife's death last year, Tatlow left the project, but two publicly traded companies in Alberta, together with the Mullens, are aggressively pursuing more exploratory drilling this year.
Golconda Resources Ltd. of Calgary and Shear Minerals Ltd. of Edmonton, with Shulin Lake Mining, invested $1 million in the drilling program, which wrapped up for the winter this month, according to Golconda's president. Exploration will resume when the ground is dry, possibly in June.
The joint venture shipped two to three tons of core samples to a lab in Ontario and expects results in May, said Guenter J. Liedtke, president of Golconda, the controlling partner.
"We hope we find a few bigger diamonds in these samples," Liedtke said.
Diamonds are the world's hardest substance. Eighty percent of diamonds are used for industrial purposes, such as drilling, grinding, cutting and polishing. Jewelry is the other big use.
Although diamond exploration is booming in Canada's Northwest Territories, that's not the case in Alaska. Aside from the Shulin Lake discovery, there have been few substantiated reports of diamonds being found in Alaska.
Three diamonds were found in the 1980s on Crooked Creek, near Central in the Circle mining district of the Interior, according to a report from the Alaska Division of Mining. Placer miners discovered the gems accidentally while cleaning out their sluice boxes.
The diamonds were larger than the ones recovered from the Shulin Lake area, ranging from 0.3 to 1.4 carats in weight.
"It's exciting to see exploring for diamonds, but the probability of success of any one venture is pretty doggone slim," said Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. "But I'm cheering for these guys and I hope they're successful."