Donlin Gold suspends drilling program, moves employees from work camp

Donlin camp. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK)

Donlin Gold has suspended its drilling program, and plans to remove most of its employees from its remote work camp in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta starting April 9. This comes as the state ramps up health mandates to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

It was supposed to be Donlin Gold’s biggest drilling program in 12 years. The company wants to build one of the biggest gold mines in the world in a remote location in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, but the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted its drilling plan. Like many companies, Donlin is packing up and shutting down.

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“So the situation has been incredibly dynamic with mandates, and restrictions, and requirements, and suggestions going out,” said Donlin Gold spokesperson Kristina Woolston. She says that the company plans to remove most of their employees, beginning at the end of the week.

Woolston said that eight of those employees came from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages, but won’t say how many came from Anchorage or from out-of-state. Woolston said that they are working with villages to get the employees into the communities while adhering to travel restrictions.

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“At this point, we are working directly with communities to have a direct charter flight into communities, so at this point, there will be no intra-village travel or intra-region travel,” Woolston said.

Donlin Gold flew in its employees on charter flights because the only way to get to the campsite is by plane. Woolston said that no one has entered or left the camp since March 26. She also said that Donlin screened employees daily for symptoms and instituted social distancing measures at the camp.

“So when folks got to camp, we have fairly large facilities so we could have shifts come in and out of dining, so we could rotate people in and out,” Woolston said.

Donlin also required three people to one dining table and did not allow employees to share snowmachine helmets. Workers slept in small cabins that had more space between them.

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Alaska state officials have classified mining as “essential infrastructure,” which gives companies permission to keep operating amid the pandemic. Companies are required to adhere to the state health mandates and provide lodging to quarantine out-of-state workers. A Prudhoe Bay oilfield worker and a Pogo gold miner have both tested positive for the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Woolston said that Donlin Gold is continuing its community outreach in the region to help villages cope with the pandemic. 

“So we’re standing by, and we’ve reached out to every tribe, every community. We’ve sent emails and left voicemails to all of the nonprofits in the region to see what we can do to help and partner,” said Woolston.

That includes sending mask kits to villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and working with The Kuskokwim Corporation to send food and medical supplies to the 10 villages closest to the mine site in response to Ravn suspending all of its operations.

Woolston said that they don’t know when they will restart the drilling program, but said that the company is keeping a close eye on developments.

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