Donlin Gold launches largest drilling program in a decade
Donlin Gold executives are not waiting for spring to launch the largest drilling program in a decade on the world-class gold prospect in western Alaska.
A warm-up team has been working to clean up and restart the Donlin camp for about two weeks, spokeswoman Kristina Woolston said Feb. 1. Small.
“Obviously the weather was a factor. It was 35 below at camp the other day. The start of winter was cold,” Woolston said.
Donlin’s $60 million drilling program in 2022 will begin with two rigs and work will eventually grow to five or six active rigs by mid-summer, according to Woolston. The approximately 34,000 meters of infill and geotechnical drilling planned for this year would represent approximately 40% more work than last year.
A 50-50 joint venture between Vancouver-based NovaGold and Toronto-based mining giant Barrick Gold Corp., Donlin’s extensive drilling program will inform an updated feasibility study as Barrick and NovaGold pursue their final investment decision on the mine. $6.7 billion open pit.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the project’s environmental impact statement in 2018, although several other approvals are still required, including the key state dam safety permit.
The construction cost estimate of $6.7 billion was developed from the last feasibility study carried out on the project in 2011.
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Starting in the winter will help give drill crews time to get the job done, but also make it more convenient to hit some drill targets, Woolston noted. It’s also not the first time Donlin has done this kind of work in the winter, she said.
“Certain aspects of the drill program are more effective in the winter,” Woolston said. “Just like on the North Slope, getting to certain areas when they’re frozen is much easier on the ground.”
As proposed, the open pit mine in the upper Kuskokwim River watershed would be one of the largest in the world, producing more than 33 million ounces of gold over an initial mine life of 27 years. A 315-mile gas pipeline on the west side of Cook Inlet would supply a power plant at the mine, and fuel storage tanks would be constructed at Dutch Harbor, in addition to very large-scale mining at the mine site.
Located on land owned by The Kuskokwim Corp., the Alaskan region native village corporation, mineral rights to the deposit are controlled by Calista Corp., the regional native corporation.
Opposition to the mine has grown in recent years from area tribes and other indigenous groups. They argue that the mine will irreparably damage Kuskokwim’s fisheries, which are a primary livelihood resource for area residents. More than a dozen tribes in the area have formally opposed Donlin since the project won its blanket federal approval.
Donlin, TKC and Calista executives insist residents’ fears often stem from misinformation. They highlight the approximately 3,000 construction jobs and another 1,400 jobs expected over the life of the mine, as well as the prospect of using the project’s infrastructure to help reduce energy costs in the region, which are among the highest in the country.
Donlin currently employs around 100 workers at the camp when activity is high.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].