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

Tribes that oppose the pipeline say that it will have disastrous effects on their land use and subsistence resources. (KYUK)

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has granted Donlin Gold the right to lease state land in order to build a pipeline that will power its mine — for the second time.

DNR granted the land-use rights on July 20 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. 

But it’s not the first final decision to grant the land rights.

The first one 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.

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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 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,” he said. “They should be thinking about the whole project and they should be thinking about the big picture.” 

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 piCook 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 the 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 fighting for additional review of 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.

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