Alaska’s Donlin Gold Project Receives Crucial Permits

Published March 21, 2019

The Donlin Gold project, a joint venture of Novagold Resources Alaska Inc. and Barrick Gold US Inc., is closer to becoming a reality with the state of Alaska having issued two critical permits.

The proposed mine, which is estimated to hold 39 million ounces of gold, is in the Yukon Kuskokwim region of Alaska, 280 miles west of Anchorage. The mine is expected to have an operational life of at least 27 years.

Waste Treatment, Site Recovery

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation approved Donlin’s waste management permit detailing how solid, liquid, and hazardous waste from mining operations will be handled. In addition, Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approved the mine’s reclamation permit specifying the steps its owners must take to restore the site after the mine closes.

As a requirement of its permits, Donlin guarantees to reclaim and provide long-term care and maintenance of the mine site, including water management and treatment. Donlin’s owners will also provide a $322 million bond to cover site reclamation and water management and treatment.

Unique Wetland Agreement

Donlin’s principals also agreed to protect wetlands owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority in the Cook Inlet area, to satisfy a requirement the companies offset the acreage the mine would occupy. The proposed mine would disturb about 2,800 acres of southwest Alaska wetlands, and the agreement would provide offsets for about 2,000 acres.

The wetlands agreement, according to Alaska’s Energy Desk, is the first of its kind for the Health Trust Authority and requires Donlin Gold to pay $200,000 to the trust, plus additional payments each year for 10 years while the companies decide whether to proceed. Once operations begin, Donlin Gold will pay another $1.3 million to the trust to preserve the 2,000 acres for 99 years.

Before beginning operations, Donlin still has to secure infrastructure permits for temporary roads, fiber optic lines, and pipelines to carry fuel, likely natural gas, to the project. The project must also obtain rights of way, water rights and temporary water use authorizations, and a dam safety certificate.

Public Benefits of Gold Mining

With current spot gold prices hovering above $1,300 per ounce, the project could yield gold worth more than $50 billion during its lifetime. Two other Alaska gold mining operations—the Fort Knox gold mine north of Fairbanks and the Pogo gold mine near Delta Junction—are currently providing high-paying jobs for Alaska residents.

Alaska Policy Forum Director of Operations Larry Barsukoff says jobs and revenues from the Donlin Gold project would bolster the local and state economies.

“The Donlin project represents a tremendous economic opportunity for the residents of the Yukon Kuskokwim area,” Barsukoff said. “The Alaska Policy Forum supports responsible development of natural resources, is excited to see the project move through the permitting process, and looks forward to work starting in the near future.”

Duggan Flanakin ([email protected]) writes from Austin, Texas.