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State Allows Donlin Gold To Lease Land For 315-Mile Long Pipeline

Public comments for the water quality certification permit for the Donlin gold mine are due July 13.

On July 20, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted Donlin Gold the right to lease state land to build a pipeline that will power its mine. This is the secondtime that the state has reached this decision. 


DNR has granted land-use rights for a proposed 315-mile long pipeline that would stretch from Cook Inlet to the proposed mine site about 12 miles north of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River. The pipeline will supply natural gas to the mine to power its operations. 


It’s the second time that the state made a final decision to grant the land rights. The first happened over a year ago, but tribes that oppose the mine sought a rereview; DNR agreed to put the decision on hold while they looked at the pipeline again. Since last April, DNR’s state pipeline coordinator, Tony Strupulis, has been analyzing the pipeline. He said that the designs haven’t changed, and that he didn’t find any major flaws in the project. 


“For the most part, it was, we did take a look at everything, and it was just a matter of organizing and presenting it in a better form than we did originally,” said Strupulis.


The reason for the rereview, according to the statement issued by DNR, was to "review and clarify the cumulative effects of the project." That was a key part of the tribes’ concerns, and a reason they asked for the review. 


Attorneys from environmental law firm Earthjustice say that DNR didn’t do enough in their reanalysis, citing that they reissued the exact same decision. Earthjustice Attorney Tom Waldo said that DNR needs to look at all the impacts of the project, rather than one issue at a time as he says they’re doing. 


“I thought that they were going to evaluate the whole project again, like we had requested, but they didn't do that. They should be thinking about the whole project, and they should be thinking about the big picture,” said Waldo. 


Earthjustice represented five Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta tribes and a nonprofit called Cook Inletkeeper in the most recent regulatory battle against the pipeline. The tribes were the Orutsararamiut Native Council, Chuloonawick Native Village, Chevak Native Village, the Native Village of Eek, and the Kasigluk Traditional Council. 


Tribes that oppose the pipeline say that it will have disastrous effects on their land use and subsistence resources. Strupulis acknowledged that pipelines come with some risk. 


“The risks are less than some of the other options for energy sources, you know. It's better than hauling diesel by road or by boat. So a gas pipeline is better from that respect, but it's not completely without risk. There's the potential of rupture of a pipeline or a leak and discharging the product, whether that be oil or gas, and into the environment,” said Strupulis.


If the tribes choose to contest the decision to allow land-leasing to the pipeline, they have until Aug. 8 to do so within DNR. If the commissioner of DNR upholds her decision, they would then have to appeal to the superior court. 


This isn’t the only regulatory front that the five Y-K Delta tribes are pushing on, and a sixth tribe, Tuluksak Native Community, has joined the appeals. Currently they’re appealing a separate decision by DNR to grant 12 water use permits to the proposed mine. They’re also appealing a State Water Quality Certificate in Alaska Superior Court. 


For its part, Donlin Gold says that the pipeline, in addition to powering the mine, could bring new energy solutions to the Y-K Delta.


Olivia Ebertz is a News Reporter for KYUK. She also works as a documentary filmmaker. She enjoys learning languages, making carbs, and watching movies.