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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Final EIS is a major milestone for Donlin

Partners celebrate landmark near end of long permitting road

 

Last updated 5/11/2018 at 4:10am

Gold mine development, Novagold, Barrick Gold, Calista

Donlin Gold LLC

This rendering shows the planned layout for the proposed Donlin Gold Mine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Southwest Alaska.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' April 27 filing of the final Environmental Impact Statement for Donlin Gold is a major milestone along the roughly six-year journey to obtain the permits needed to develop a world-class mine at the 39-million-ounce gold project in the heart of the Kuskokwim Gold Belt in Southwest Alaska.

"The filing of the Donlin Gold EIS is a major step forward in unlocking the enormous value of our uniquely attractive gold asset," said Novagold Resources Inc. President and CEO Greg Lang.

This uniquely attractive asset hosts 39 million oz of gold in an ore-body that averages 2.2 grams of gold per metric ton.

Novagold owns a 50 percent interest in Donlin Gold LLC, the company endeavoring to permit and eventually develop this enormous gold deposit, global gold miner Barrick Gold Corp. owns the other half.

"The project partners share common values that include technical innovation, financial discipline, a deep commitment to safety and environmental stewardship as well as respect for the traditional way of life in this region," said Barrick President Kelvin Dushnisky.

Weighing the alternatives

While getting to a final EIS is an important milestone, it is not the end of the permitting road for Donlin Gold.

The next landmark along the way is for the Corps to complete a Record of Decision, which will reveal the preferred mine development alternative for Donlin Gold and explain why this is the most environmentally sound, yet feasible, plan for advancing a globally significant mine at this gold deposit.

The project Donlin Gold submitted for permitting – known as alternative 2 in the EIS – involves a conventional open pit, truck-and-shovel operation that would mine roughly 383,000 metric tons of material per day, on average.

This size operation would provide enough ore to feed a 53,500-metric-ton-per-day mill that is estimated to average roughly 1.1 million oz gold annually over a projected 27-year mine-life.

Due to its remote location, this world-class mine would need major new infrastructure, including a marine port near Bethel; port near the mine on the Kuskokwim River; ocean and river barging operations; 30-mile road connecting the river port to the mine; camp; airstrip; 227-megawatt power plant; fuel storage facilities, water management facilities; and a 315-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

Other alternatives outlined in the final EIS look at ways of reducing the amount of diesel that would need to be barged along the Kuskokwim River, one of the primary concerns of residents that also use the river, by either running a diesel pipeline parallel to the natural gas pipeline or using liquified natural gas to fuel the massive earth hauling trucks at the mine.

Moving the river port to a site further down the Kuskokwim and using a dry stack facility instead of a standard impoundment to store the tailings are other alternatives considered in the EIS.

And like all EIS, the no action alternative is included. Under this scenario, the Corps would deny the primary permit needed to develop Donlin.

While it remains uncertain at this time which alternative the Corps will go with, Donlin Gold External Affairs Manager Kurt Parkan said LNG powered haul trucks is something the company would like to incorporate into the mine plan, if this technology fully develops in time.

The technology needed to make LNG fuel a viable alternative, however, is relatively young and has only recently been put into commercial use on a limited basis.

More than 100 permits

While Corps prepares a record of decision that will reveal the preferred alternative for Donlin Gold, Barrick and Novagold will continue its work to obtain the more than 100 federal and state permits needed to develop the 1.1-million-oz-per-year gold mine.

"We look forward to ongoing engagement with our community and government partners as we continue to advance through this important permitting phase," said Dushinsky.

While this permitting process is nearing six years and counting, the quest to obtain authorization to build a mine at Donlin Gold has gone smoothly. This relatively straightforward process is largely due to partnerships with the region's Native corporations – Calista Corp. and The Kuskokwim Corp. – and Donlin Gold's extensive engagement with the communities and people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim area of Southwest Alaska and across the state.

"Permitting is a very public and transparent process," said Lang "We have always welcomed wide-ranging scrutiny of the project and made multiple modifications in response to extensive public input to ensure that we reach an important balance between enhancing the project's technical attributes and the overarching objectives of protecting the traditional way of life of the local communities, ensuring the safety of our employees, and safeguarding our common environmental inheritance. All of these outcomes are reflected in an EIS in which all Alaskans can be proud."

Corps' Record of Decision for Donlin Gold is expected in August and Donlin Gold anticipates decisions on most of the federal and state permits by early 2019.

 

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