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Gold & Mining

Mining Facts

Demystifying Mining

Resource development is essential to our everyday life.

Believe it or not, nearly everything we depend on is either made from metals and minerals or relies on them for its production. In fact, societies today completely rely on mining, minerals and metals to function. Consider medical, dental and scientific equipment, cables and wires, photography, water distillation, electronic devices, batteries, and even your cutlery. From toothpaste and makeup to the roads, cars, computers, telephones, television and eyeglasses, and even the medication and vitamins you take every day — almost every single item you use daily contains materials extracted from the earth’s surface.

While it is true that mining activities are complex, causing both environmental and social change no matter where they occur, the potential for adverse impacts is minimized when mines are managed in accordance with best practices. The industry is committed to responsible resource development to avoid environmental harm, provide safe and healthy workplaces as well as deliver economic stimulus throughout the world. 

Sourced from The National Mining Association (  

Mines contribute to local economies and communities.

There is much more to mining than just minerals. Many mining projects are located near remote communities where few economic opportunities exist and where youth often need to move to larger cities to find employment.  By bringing an economic driver to an area, mining provides jobs, stimulates economic development and improves infrastructure and access. When mining companies and local communities work together to build strong and collaborative relationships, tangible and long lasting benefits are enjoyed by both parties. 

The mining industry contributes significantly to an area’s economic strength both directly and indirectly. Providing employment and wages, making in-kind contributions, paying government taxes and royalties, and enabling capital expenditures and infrastructure development are only a few examples of the industry’s contribution. Also indirectly, through partnerships and third party affiliations, the industry supports many firms and sectors that supply mining companies with the goods and services that they need to function.

Click here to learn about NOVAGOLD’s commitment to its local communities.

Sourced from The National Mining Association (  

Does Donlin Gold have an environmental plan?

Yes Donlin Gold has an environmental plan. Sustaining the environment in the Yukon Kuskokwim (YK) region is one of the top priorities of the Donlin Gold project. For the past 20 years, Donlin Gold has been conducting numerous baseline environmental studies and monitoring to evaluate the possible impacts of the activity required to construct and operate the mine. Data from these studies is being used in the design process for the mine to meet or exceed environmental standards as well as for the protection of the natural and subsistence resources in the YK region. The data will also provide information about the environment before, during, and after mine operations to ensure the air, land, water and wildlife is continuously protected. These studies have been submitted to the regulatory agencies as part of the permitting process.

Key baseline studies completed prior to commencing permitting at Donlin Gold include:

  • Surface water quality monitoring
  • Groundwater quality monitoring
  • Air quality monitoring
  • Cultural studies (socioeconomic and archaeological)
  • Mercury baseline studies
  • Aquatic/fish studies
  • Wildlife surveys
  • Habitat mapping

Click here to learn about NOVAGOLD’s environmental protection initiatives.

What does it mean to use cyanide?

Gold cyanidation is a process where gold is temporarily converted into a water soluble form. It is the most widely accepted method for efficient and environmentally sound gold extraction. Donlin Gold plans to use cyanide to extract the gold from the ore, and will follow guidelines provided by the International Cyanide Management Code on how to transport, store, and use cyanide, as well as manage waste streams that contain it. Dry sodium-cyanide briquettes will be shipped to the mine site in sealed steel ISO (International Standard Organization) tanks. The cyanide will be dissolved into solution at very low concentrations for use in gold extraction. 

After the ore is reduced into smaller sized grains, it will be transported to an on-site leaching plant where the ore will be mixed with the cyanide solution. The cyanide will dissolve the gold into a solution, and then the gold will be precipitated out of the solution. The cyanide-containing waste will go through a destruction process that reduces its concentration before being discharged to fully-lined tailings storage facility. This industry leading detoxification process has been adopted in the last 25 years by major gold mining companies worldwide. The trace amounts of cyanide remaining in the tailings storage facility will naturally disintegrate further under the influence of sunlight and air.

What is the barging traffic plan for Donlin Gold?

Operating and powering the mine will require fuel and other supplies to be transported to the site. Many of these materials will be transported to the project by barges that will travel up and down the Kuskokwim River during the shipping season between June and October. The introduction of the natural gas pipeline to supply power to the project reduced the amount of diesel needed to be barged on the river annually by approximately 80 million gallons. This also reduced the amount of barges needed to approximately one fuel barge and one supply barge leaving the Bethel port each day.

While the potential for a spill is extremely unlikely because of the safeguards that have been included into the transportation plan, the Donlin Gold project will have an emergency Spill Response Plan ready to implement if a spill does occur. The plan will include staged response equipment at different locations along the transportation corridor and trained response crews.

How will Donlin Gold responsibly manage the tailings facility?

After extracting the gold, wet tailings resembling silt will be a byproduct of the milling process. A containment dam, engineered to withstand environmental conditions in Alaska, will be built to store the tailings. It will have a synthetic liner to minimize any potential seepage. The ultimate size of the tailings storage facility will be approximately 1.75-miles-long by 1-mile-wide.   The dam will be constructed of competent rock by the upstream construction method, which is generally considered the most structurally sound construction practice.  The upstream face will have a liner to prevent infiltration of water into the dam.  When the mine is no longer in operation, the free water in the tailings storage facility will be removed and the tailings will be covered with rock, gravel, and soil and planted with vegetation.  This is considered “dry closure” and reduces the potential for long-term environmental risks. The tailings dam will be re-contoured to blend in with the surrounding terrain.

Does the rock at Donlin Gold have naturally occurring mercury?

The rock at Donlin Gold has naturally occurring mercury, as do many areas associated with volcanic activity, high heat flows, and plate tectonic boundaries. This mercury is released into the atmosphere through natural processes such as weathering of rock, vaporization from soil, wildfires, and off-gassing of the world’s oceans. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other scientific sources, about one-half of the mercury emitted into the air each year is from these natural processes.

The primary source of human-generated mercury air emissions is combustion of coal, whereas metals mining is a relatively minor source of mercury air emissions both nationally and globally.  Once released into the atmosphere, mercury may be transported great distances from its original source. For example, according to the USEPA, half of the human-generated mercury that is deposited in the western U.S. comes from industrial sources in Asia.

In 2010, the EPA finalized national emissions standards for mercury based on maximum achievable control technology (MACT).  These new limits are based on the nation’s best-performing gold processing facilities, which are well controlled for mercury. To adhere to these new EPA regulations, Donlin Gold is committed to installing and operating state-of-the-art mercury emissions controls to meet or exceed these standards.

What does water management entail at Donlin Gold and what programs are in place to protect aquatic life?

The YK region has an abundant supply of fresh surface water, with about 20 inches of annual precipitation at the Donlin Gold site. Donlin Gold is committed to protecting local water sources from pollution and has been conducting surface water quality monitoring and groundwater quality monitoring as part of the baseline studies for the project.

Any water that comes in contact with the mine, such as rainwater or snowmelt would either be diverted into contact water ponds or treated and discharged in compliance with permit limits. The ponds would be used to supply water for the mill – the project maximizes the re-use of contact water wherever possible. A fresh water reservoir could also provide an additional supply of water for processing, as well as other emergencies and unexpected situations like fires.   Dischage permit limits would be established based on stringent water quality standards intended to protech human health and aquatic life. 

Protecting aquatic life is another top priority at Donlin Gold. Since 2004, aquatic biologists have conducted aerial salmon count surveys during the chinook, chum, and coho runs near Crooked Creek and its tributaries.  A fish weir was installed in 2008 to get more reliable counts. The resistance board fish weir includes a digital video recorder (DVR) to accurately record and count the fish. This video counting method means there is no live trap collection of the fish; they simply pass through the guidance structure and continue upstream. Resistance board weir and DVR technology has been proven to be effective by both the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Donlin Gold Project includes a range of measures designed to be protective of the important anadromous and resident species in the area.  All discharges would comply with the State’s stringent water quality criteria for aquatic life protection.  Hazardous material transport and storage would be accomplished with secondary containment to the maximum extent practicable to prevent releases to waterbodies.   In addition, many specific best management practices would be used during construction, operation, and closure to minimize the potential water quality impacts.  Finally, the project would be required to comply with numerous Federal and State permits with requirements protective of fisheries.

Studies on the Kuskokwim River completed to date include:

  • Fishing activity and river use surveys from Georgetown to Kuskokwim Bay
  • Erosion studies
  • Barge wake impact studies
  • Sediment and water sampling
  • Noise observations
  • Wildlife observations

The results of these studies have been fully considered in the development of our river transportation plan.


Mineral Deposit vs Ore

A mineral deposit is a mineralized body which has been physically delineated by sufficient drilling, trenching, and/or underground work, and found to contain a sufficient average grade of metal or metals to warrant further exploration and/or development expenditures.

Ore is rock containing metallic or non-metallic materials that can be mined and processed at a profit.

Definitions as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K

Open-pit vs Underground

An open-pit mine is an excavation or cut made at the surface of the ground for the purpose of extracting ore which remains open to the surface for the duration of the mine's life. To expose and mine the ore, it is generally necessary to excavate and relocate large quantities of waste rock. This form of mining requires no tunneling and is utilized when the ore body is relatively close to the surface or underground exploitation of the ore body is uneconomical.

Underground mining is where the extraction of ore is produced by tunneling into the earth to the bed of mineral ore, which is then mined with underground mining equipment and methods. Underground mining methods are generally utilized when the deposit or ore body is too deep to mine more economically from an open pit. Underground mines have various mining techniques by which to extract the ore. The technique is defined based on grade, continuity of the ore body and ground conditions.

Open pit mine definition sourced from Underground mining definition as per SME Mining Engineering Handbook, 2nd Edition, Volume 1

Reserve vs Resource

A mineral resource is a concentration or occurrence of solid material of economic interest in or on the Earth’s crust in such form, grade or quality and quantity that there are reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction. The location, quantity, continuity and other geological characteristics of a mineral resource are known, estimated or interpreted from specific geological evidence and knowledge, including sampling. Mineral resources are subdivided, in order of increasing geological confidence, into inferred, indicated and measured categories.

A mineral reserve is the economically mineable part of a measured and/or indicated mineral resource. It includes diluting materials and allowances for losses, which may occur when the material is mined or extracted and is defined by studies at Pre-Feasibility or Feasibility level as appropriate that include application of modifying factors. Such studies demonstrate that, at the time of reporting, extraction could reasonably be justified. The reference point at which mineral reserves are defined, usually the point where the ore is delivered to the processing plant, must be stated. Mineral reserves are subdivided in order of increasing confidence into probable mineral reserves and proven mineral reserves.

Definitions as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K

Concentrate vs Doré

Concentrate is a product recovered in flotation, which has been upgraded sufficiently for downstream processing or sale.

Doré is a semi-pure alloy of gold and silver.

Definitions as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K


A metallurgical technique, using a diluted cyanide solution, for extracting gold from ore by dissolving the gold into solution.

Definition as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K


A process used for the concentration of minerals, especially within base metal systems. Air bubbles float minerals to the surface in a tank, thereby separating them from other materials which sink to the bottom.

Definition as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K


Uneconomic material produced by a mineral processing plant which is disposed of in a manner meeting government regulation and which may involve a permanent impoundment facility or discharge of material to the environment in a manner regulated by the government authority.

Definition as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K

Water Treatment

Water treatment is the manipulation of a water source to achieve a water quality that meets or exceeds specified goals or standards set by the community through its regulatory agencies. Water treatment removes water contaminants or reduces their concentration so that water becomes fit for its desired end-use, such as safely returning treated water to the environment.

To ensure that the quality of water leaving a mine site is not adversely affecting water users downstream, mining companies develop water management plans to minimize the potential for water contamination, and to prevent the release of polluted water into the environment. Surrounding surface and groundwater quality is monitored, and a number of treatment processes are used to ensure mine water meets regulatory standards prior to being discharged.

Sourced from

Waste Rock

Barren or submarginal rock that has been mined but is not of sufficient value to warrant treatment and is therefore removed ahead of the milling process.

Definition as per NOVAGOLD 2014 Annual Report on Form 10-K


The process includes restoring the land to its approximate original appearance, where possible, by removing infrastructure and equipment, as well as restoring topsoil, planting native grasses, and ground covers.

Open Pit
Mining Method
(NOVAGOLD/Barrick Gold Corporation)
27 Years
Estimated Mine Life
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50%-owned, flagship asset
Donlin Gold
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