Donlin Gold files for right of way to build $1 billion gas line

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Construction on the natural gas pipeline is expected to start in 2016, with the goal of delivering fuel by the middle of 2019.

No, not that gas pipeline.

Developers of the Donlin Gold project have applied for a right of way in Southcentral Alaska for a 315-mile pipeline to transmit Cook Inlet natural gas to their proposed gold mine near Crooked Creek, about 280 miles west of Anchorage.

The $1 billion Donlin Gold Natural Gas Pipeline Project would be privately financed, with a goal of offering stable energy for the gold prospect, according to the company.

"The use of natural gas supplied via the proposed pipeline project has been evaluated by Donlin Gold and determined to be the most practicable cost-effective and environmentally acceptable means of providing a reliable long-term energy source for the proposed Donlin Gold mine project," the background document said.

Donlin owners Barrick Gold and Nova Gold hope to tap into a gold deposit estimated at 39 million ounces that could lead to an annual production of about 1 million ounces a year from an open-pit mine. That would double Alaska's gold production, which was over 1 million ounces in 2013 for the first time since 1906, according to Petroleum News.

The prospect of fueling the operation with gas from Cook Inlet has been under study for years, founded on the notion that there will be enough gas available for the 30-year expected life of the mine.

The site is 10 miles north of Crooked Creek near the Kuskokwim River on land owned by The Kuskokwim Corp. and Calista Corp.

A 14-inch diameter line would begin about 30 miles west of Anchorage, some 7 miles north of the Beluga power plant. It would have the capacity to transmit about 73 million cubic feet of gas per day, less than 5 percent of the capacity of the proposed Alaska LNG project from the North Slope to Nikiski.

About 206 miles of pipe would cross state lands, according to the Donlin application, which is under review by the state Department of Natural Resources.

"The prevalence of low-grade wetlands and/or permafrost on each side of the Alaska Range dictate winter construction for about 68 percent of the approximate 315 miles of pipeline," the Donlin development plan said. The line would cross the Skwenta River, Happy River, Kuskokwim River and other waterways using horizontal directional drilling equipment that goes from bank to bank beneath the river bed.

Elsewhere, the pipeline would be placed into a trench dug with backhoes and other equipment, allowing about 3 feet of cover in most places. The idea would be to dig the trench and close it as soon as possible.

"The more time a trench is open, the higher the chance of the trench filling with snow and having to do snow removal from an open trench," the plan said.

The project would require about 2 million cubic yards of gravel for airstrips, construction pads and access roads, as well as 55,000 cubic yards of backfill. The pipeline would cross the Iditarod Trail intermittently in the area southeast of Farewell and would be buried along the entire route except for two crossings of earthquake faults. Donlin is one of four so-called "principal partners" sponsoring the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

A 50-foot permanent easement is being sought and there would be a 100-foot wide clearing for construction purposes. Construction could begin in 2016, "depending on receipt of appropriate authorizations," the company told DNR.

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