Donlin Gold project carries implications for Kenai Peninsula

The future of Donlin Gold’s mining project was detailed in a presentation at the Alaska Support Industry Alliance luncheon held at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center on Dec. 19. While located in western Alaska, the project has repercussions for the Kenai Peninsula, as a proposed pipeline would transport natural gas from Cook Inlet to the site.

The Donlin Gold mining project is located in Alaska’s Yukon Kuskokwim region, approximately 10 miles from the village of Crooked Creek. It is jointly owned by NOVAGOLD Resources and Barrick Gold Corp. Donlin Gold estimates that the site has 33.9 million ounces of gold reserves.

“A project the size of ours is going to have benefits to the entire state, so I think it’s important for us to share (details of) the project,” said Kurt Parkan, external affairs manager for Donlin Gold.

Parkan said the mine will be one of the world’s largest — probably in the top 10 percent.

He said it is hoped the project would create up to 1,400 jobs each year during operations. The site will have a mine-life of an estimated 29 years. He said that the open-pit mine site will be like a small city and contain a campsite for 600 people.

Despite already being nearly 20 years in development, the project needs to receive more than 100 permits before construction and mining can begin.

“In a dream world, I’d like to already be pouring gold,” Parkan said.

While Parkan would like to mine now, realistically, it will be many years before mining can commence, he said.

One of the main reasons Donlin Gold and the Alliance thought it was important to give a presentation in Kenai was because of a proposed pipeline running from Cook Inlet to the site. The pipeline would be approximately 312 miles long, and although it would be buried, it would have some above ground structures to allow safety checks.

“We will be getting gas from the Cook Inlet to fuel the power plant at our project site,” Parkan said. “Certainly Kenai has pipelines, natural gas pipelines in the area. A lot of industry (in the area) supports pipelines.”

He said the idea for the pipeline wasn’t part of the original project.

“The pipeline came about sort of late in the process,” Parkan said. “We originally were planning on barging diesel up the Kuskokwim, but when we went up to the region and started talking to the folks, there was some resistance to that idea, so we went back to the drawing board and realized a natural gas pipeline was actually cheaper for us and environmentally better than the diesel.”

Parkan said in place of a gas pipeline, a diesel pipeline also would be considered by the company’s engineers.

He said that most people he’s talked to are supportive of the project, but he is open to hearing the public’s concerns.

“There are people who have concerns about the project and issues that they’ve been raising,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to raise those issues and concerns so they can be addressed.”

Despite some people having concerns about the project, Parkan is confident in Donlin Gold’s ability to mine safely.

“I think that we’ve shown that we’re committed to doing it safely, we’re committed to spending the money to do it right. We’re going above and beyond some of the regulatory requirements.”

One example Parkan cited was having extra safety measures at the site’s fully lined tailing facility.

In the presentation, Parkan said that Alaska would benefit from the project due to the increase in jobs as well as from taxes generated from the company’s $375 million annual payroll during construction and $97 million payroll during operations.

Tim Musgrove, the president of the Kenai chapter of the Alliance, was pleased that Parkan took time to come to Kenai.

“(The presentation was important) to educate the community on projects that would benefit the area.”

Ian Foley is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.