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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 (Plan of Operation). Sustaining the environment in the Yukon Kuskokwim (YK) region is one of the top priorities at 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 continues to be used in the design process for the mine and meets or exceeds environmental standards and regulations 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 are 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, subsistence, 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 in gold extraction where gold is converted into a water soluble form by utilizing an aqueous cyanide solution. It is one of the most widely accepted methods 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 run of mine ore undergoes crushing and grinding to reduce the particle size, and flotation and oxidation to liberate the gold particle, it will be transported as a slurry (solid and liquid mixture) to an on-site leaching plant where it  will be mixed with the dilute cyanide solution. The cyanide will dissolve the gold making a gold bearing solution, and then activated carbon is added to absorb the gold/cyanide complex. This allows for the mechanical separation of the gold bearing carbon and the non-gold bearing slurry (waste). The gold is then desorbed from the carbon by cyanide, returning it to the solution prior to the gold being removed from the solution by the electrowinning process (plating the gold using electrical current). Any residual cyanide in the waste will be greatly reduced in a cyanide destruction process prior to the waste being discharged to the fully-lined tailings storage facility. This detoxification process has been adopted and utilized over 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 low draft river 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 every other day.

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

How will Donlin Gold responsibly manage tailings?

After extracting the gold, wet tailings resembling silt will be a byproduct of the process. A containment dam and basin, 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 downstream construction method and keyed into bedrock, 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 EPA, 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 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 that meet or exceed these standards. To support the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, Donlin Gold conducted detailed mercury emissions and fate and transport modeling as well as evaluating the potential mercury related risks to human health and the environment. No risks were shown; the findings were accepted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the lead agency for the EIS).  ADEC also considered mercury and other toxic pollutant emissions and control technologies in issuing its Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) of Air Quality requirements for the project.

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 conducted extensive surface water and groundwater monitoring as part of the baseline studies for the project.

All waters associated with the mine workings, process facility area, waste rock facility, and tailings storage facility would be fully contained and either used in the process plant or treated and discharged in compliance with discharge permit limits. The project maximizes the re-use of these waters 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. Discharge permit limits have been established that are based on the most stringent water quality standards intended to protect human health and aquatic life. 

Protecting aquatic life is another top priority at Donlin Gold. Since 2004, aquatic biologists have conducted years of salmon and resident fish surveys in Crooked Creek and its tributaries.  A fish weir was installed in 2008 to reliably count chinook, chum, and coho escapements from the watershed.

The Donlin Gold project includes a range of measures designed to be protective of the important anadromous and resident species in the area. As noted above, 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 impacts to water quality and aquatic habitat. Finally, the project would be obligated to comply with numerous Federal and State permits with requirements protective of fisheries.

On the Kuskokwim River, Donlin Gold conducted the first ever juvenile and adult salmon migration and rainbow smelt surveys in areas of the river that could be affected by barging. Additional river studies have included:

  • 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 2020 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 National Instrument 43-101 – Standards of Disclosure for Mineral Projects and the CIM Definitions standards.

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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 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 2020 Annual Report on Form 10-K

Water Treatment

To ensure that all discharged water meets the most stringent water quality standards, Donlin Gold has designed a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that will remove pollutants to levels that are protective of human health and aquatic life.

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 2020 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.

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