- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The bright green rocks jutting through the prairie soil were hard to miss, but Tom Charlton still couldn’t believe his eyes.

It was kimberlite, the molten rock in which diamonds are found, and preliminary tests had yielded a microscopic diamond. If more are found at the 80-acre site known as the Homestead property, the land could become the state’s first commercial diamond operation and the only working diamond mine in the United States, geologists said.

Canada has the only diamond mines operating in North America.

“It’s once in a lifetime. You just don’t find things like that every day,” said Mr. Charlton, an official with Delta Mining and Exploration Corp.

The Kentucky-based firm plans to begin large-scale exploration of the central Montana site next month.

What makes this latest discovery unique is that it’s believed to be the first diamond found in Montana that was created here, rather than dropped in the state by a retreating glacier or other means. And accessibility makes the property especially appealing.

Normally, it takes years to find underlying kimberlite deposits, let alone diamonds. But on the ranch site southeast of Lewistown, the kimberlite is exposed, pushed to the surface by high-speed gas millions of years ago, said David W. Baker, an earth scientist who lives about 100 miles from the site.

That accessibility, Mr. Charlton said, should cut excavation costs and lessen any damage to the prairie and the small, vacant cabin on the site.

“We’re two-thirds of the way there already, so the likelihood is very good,” Mr. Charlton said. “In fact, it’s one of the best [sites] I’ve ever seen, and I’ve had quite a few mining properties.”

On the other hand, he said, “We may not come up with anything.

There’s still that potential,” Delta spokesman Alex Livak said.

Though rare, diamonds aren’t unheard of in Montana. Prospectors have plucked the gems from stream beds and glacial valleys for years — most notably the 14-carat Lewis and Clark diamond found at the base of a steep slope near Craig in 1990.

Delta Mining got permission from the landowner to explore the site several years ago. But the firm is only now getting together the estimated $700,000 needed for larger soil samples, Delta Chief Executive Officer Barry Rayment said. More tests are planned in coming months.

The company said the landowner has been cooperative, but is private. He did not return messages left at his home by the Associated Press.

Although the odds of a major find are stacked against them, Mr. Rayment believes the site, and possibly others in Montana, stand a good chance of producing commercial-grade diamonds.

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