Decision looming, major drilling at Donlin
JV gears up for largest drill program at project in 8 years
Last updated 1/24/2020 at 9:33am
As we move into 2020 there are still no definitive indications of when joint venture partners Novagold Resources Inc. and Barrick Gold Corp. will make the final decision on development of the 39-million-ounce Donlin Gold project in Southwest Alaska.
Donlin Gold LLC – a 50-50 JV formed between Novagold and Barrick to advance the world-class gold mine project – has already received most of the state and federal permits to develop and operate the mine. This includes recent issuance of several permits needed to build the infrastructure that will connect Donlin to the rest of the world.
"Our track record of achievement was further enhanced earlier this month when Donlin Gold received final easements for the access road and fiber optic cable, as well as the receipt of the final land leases, land use permits, and material site authorizations for the proposed transportation facilities on state lands, including the airstrip and upriver Jungjuk Port," Novagold Resources President and CEO Gregory Lang penned in a Jan. 22 quarterly message to shareholders.
Before the ink could dry on the message, Donlin Gold received another major authorization.
On the same day, Alaska Department of Natural Resources announced a final decision on the natural gas pipeline right-of-way across 207 miles of state lands. This final decision is unchanged from a proposed decision issued last year and is the final authorization needed to build this needed energy infrastructure across the state lands that lie between Cook Inlet near Anchorage, Alaska and Donlin about 300 miles to the west.
Donlin Gold has already received a right-of-way grant to build and operate a 14-inch natural gas pipeline across federal lands that make up the 100-mile balance of the route.
The JV, however, still needs the Alaska Dam Safety certificates for the tailings storage facility and water retention and diversion structures. These are key permits for the mine and require careful and thorough evaluation before issuance.
A field program, which includes geophysical drilling that will collect information for the feasibility level engineering needed for the dam, was started in 2019 and is expected to continue into this year.
"The safety of the tailings facility constitutes one of Donlin Gold's most important priorities as they continue to provide the requisite human and financial resources to ensure that the work is done to the highest standard and according to the best design practices," said Lang.
In preparation for the feasibility study that will form the basis of a construction decision, Novagold and Barrick plan to carry out a 22,000-meter, 80-hole drill program at Donlin, the largest such program in 12 years.
With roughly 39 million ounces of gold in 541 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources that average 2.24 grams per metric ton, the Donlin Gold deposit is already large enough to support a mine that could churn out more than 1 million ounces of gold per year for the better part of three decades.
So, this year's drilling is not aimed at enlarging the deposit but confirming and expanding areas that could contribute some of the highest-grade gold during the initial years of mining.
"The program's objective is to continue to gather additional data that should increase our understanding of the geologic model and high-grade mineralization controls that have the potential to benefit the project when the owners decide to update the Donlin Gold feasibility study and initiate the engineering work necessary to advance the project design from feasibility level to basic, then detailed engineering," said Lang.
Optimization drilling completed in 2017 provided a glimpse of the widths and grades of the higher-grade zones.
Highlights from this program include: 130.5 meters grading 5.93 g/t gold; 39 meters of 9.34 g/t gold; 43.9 meters of 7.6 g/t gold; 64 meters of 5.09 g/t gold; and 30.4 meters of 10.3 g/t gold.
This year's robust drill program should provide a better look of these higher-grade zones and move Donlin Gold a step closer to a development decision.
CORRECTION: The 2020 drill program at Donlin Gold is the largest since 2008, or 12 years. A previous version of this article stated the 2020 program was the largest in 8 years.