Canadian company explores potential gold mine near Donlin

Site of the proposed Donlin Gold mine. (KYUK)

A Canadian mining company is exploring a potential gold mine in Western Alaska, just north of the Donlin Gold project.

The mine project is called “Flat Gold.” It consists of 92,000 acres of land located in Flat, between Holy Cross and McGrath, 25 miles north of the Donlin Gold project.

But the company, Tectonic Metals, said a mine actually being developed there is far from guaranteed.

“We’re years, decades behind where Donlin is,” said Tectonic Metals CEO and President Tony Reda. “We don’t even know if Flat is going to be a mine.”

But if Flat does become a mine, Reda said that it could benefit from being so close to Donlin.

“We’re not hanging our hat on Donlin moving forward. But, obviously, given the scale and the magnitude of that project, I would envision not just Flat, but the entire area benefiting from improved infrastructure, roads, power being brought in,” Reda said.

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Flat could also benefit from a gas pipeline, which in August, Donlin got approval from the state to build. The pipeline would stretch from Cook Inlet to Crooked Creek at the Kuskokwim River headwaters. Several tribes in the Y-K Delta are challenging the state’s approval in court.

Doyon, Ltd., a regional Alaska Native Corporation, owns the land where the Flat Gold project is located.

Doyon’s CEO and President, Aaron Schutt, said that despite Donlin and Flat being so close together, they would have different potential environmental impacts. While Donlin is in the Kuskokwim River watershed, Flat is not. Instead, Schutt said that water in Flat flows into the Iditarod, Innoko, and Yukon Rivers.

Any potential partnership between Flat and Donlin would be years or decades into the future. For now, Flat is in an exploration phase as Tectonic determines if enough gold exists to build a mine there.

Reda said that the process could take a very long time.

“On average, the lifecycle of a project going from, say, discovery into production is 20 years,” Reda said.

Tectonic was founded in 2017, and is based in Vancouver, Canada. In its short history, Tectonic has explored seven sites for gold. None have become mines yet.

“In our industry, the norm is that most of these projects do not make it,” Reda said.

But there is evidence that suggests Flat contains gold. According to Tectonic, the precious metal was first discovered there in 1908. After which, Tectonic said, an estimated 1.4 million ounces of gold were extracted through placer mining. Placer mining separates gold from sand or gravel rather than drilling into rock.

In the next few weeks, Reda said, Tectonic will send geologists to sample and analyze the rock surface in various areas of Flat. If those samples prove promising, he said, the company could move on to drilling in the coming years. Then, the project could employ dozens and up to over a hundred people. Reda said that many would be local workers.

“We intentionally incorporated local hiring preferences, Doyon organizations, local villages,” Reda said.

The land-owner for the project, Doyon, does not stand to benefit much financially from the deal unless enough gold is discovered at Flat for a mine to be built. At that point, Doyon would get royalties on any gold that is extracted. Doyon’s Schutt said that Flat may never get to that point.

“In rural Alaska, you have to discover quite a sizable resource, whether that’s gold or any other mineral, in order for it to even potentially become a mine,” Schutt said.

Schutt said that by the end of this deal, Doyon would at least learn more about its lands.

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