State allows Donlin Gold to lease land for 315-mile pipeline

Site of the proposed Donlin Gold mine. (KYUK)

On July 20, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for the second time granted Donlin Gold the right to lease state land to build a pipeline that will power its mine.

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 not the first final decision to grant the land rights. The first happened over a year ago. Tribes opposing the mine sought a re-review, and DNR agreed to put the decision on hold to look at the pipeline again.

Since last April, DNR’s state pipeline coordinator, Tony Strupulis, has been analyzing the pipeline.

He said he didn’t find any major flaws in the project, and the designs haven’t changed.

“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,” Strupulis said.

The reason for the re-review, according to a 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 the reason they asked for the review.

But now attorneys from environmental law firm Earthjustice say DNR didn’t do enough in their re-analysis, citing that they reissued the exact same decision. Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo said DNR needs to look at the total impacts of the project, rather piecemeal, he said.

“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,” Waldo said.

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

Tribes opposing the pipeline say it will disastrously affect their land use and subsistence resources.

Strupulis acknowledged pipelines come with some risk.

“The risks are less than some of the other options for energy sources, you know,” he said. “It’s better than hauling diesel by road or by boat. 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 — into the environment.”

If the tribes choose to contest the approval for the pipeline land lease, they have until Aug. 8 to file with DNR.

If the commissioner of DNR then upheld decision, they would then have to appeal to the Superior Court.

This isn’t the only regulatory front on which the five Y-K Delta tribes are working to get additional review for the mine’s development. They’re already appealing a state water quality certificate in Alaska Superior Court and appealing a separate decision by DNR to grant 12 water-use permits to the proposed mine.

A sixth tribe, Tuluksak Native Community, has also joined the appeals.

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

KYUK - Bethel

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