Digging With Care

NOVAGOLD is sitting on a gold mine—literally—but executive VP and general counsel David Deisley must work with the government and local communities before anything comes out of the ground

David Deisley
David Deisley

In rural Alaska, there are no roads. Access to power, gas, and water is extremely limited. It may be difficult to imagine living in this wilderness, much less running a business there, but for precious-metals-mining company NOVAGOLD Resources Inc., operating in such remote locales is the norm.

Donlin Gold, the company’s flagship project, is a deposit in Alaska that has been identified to hold around 40 million ounces of gold at the relatively high grade of more than two grams per tonne. The company’s development plan will ideally make Donlin the world’s largest producing gold mine during its first five years of operation, with overall production projected to average 1.1 million ounces annually over the mine’s 27-year lifespan.

To complete the development, though, the company will have to cut through a thicket of regulatory and financial red tape and negotiate respectfully with local Native populations, and David Deisley, as executive vice president and general counsel, is just the man for the job.

For NOVAGOLD, 2012 was a year of significant transformation in which the company refocused its efforts on Donlin by spinning off a subsidiary called NOVACOPPER. Before the restructuring, the company had nearly 70 employees and a variety of projects around the world, its resources and workforce splintered. After, it found itself slimmed down to just 14 employees.

Career Milestones

David Deisley

1983
Graduates from the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah

1988
Begins work at Parsons Behle & Latimer, a Salt Lake City, UT, law firm

2000
Becomes in-house counsel in Chile for Barrick Gold

2003
Returns to the United States as Barrick’s regional general counsel for North America

2007
Accepts a position at Goldcorp as its general counsel

2011
Earns an additional executive VP title at Goldcorp

2012
Joins NOVAGOLD as its executive VP and general counsel

One of the people kept on was Deisley, who brought with him more than 25 years of experience in the mining and metals sector. Today, he spends the majority of his time working with Donlin’s four-person permitting team and six-person sustainable-development team. He’s helping prepare Donlin’s environmental-impact assessment and collaborating with local corporations and Native populations to create programs that will benefit them before, during, and after the Donlin project is developed.

“You have to demonstrate to the host communities that the investment and the exploitation of the natural resources will result in sustainable improvements in the people’s quality of life,” Deisley says. “If they stand to benefit, local communities will support natural resource development.”

Donlin is actually a separate company, owned 50-50 by NOVAGOLD and Barrick Gold, a firm where Deisley previously worked. The development is also on private land, to which the Calista Corporation owns the mineral rights and the Kuskokwim Corporation (TKC) owns the surface rights. Both of these are Native Alaskan companies, created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which gave Alaska Natives the opportunity to develop and profit from the resources of their lands. Deisley’s role is to support the employees at Donlin while also meeting with state and federal regulators and representatives from Barrick, Calista, and TKC. With his help, Donlin was named the 2013 National Employer of the Year by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

Over the past two years, the mining industry has seen the supply of investment capital for gold-exploration and -development companies dwindle. NOVAGOLD was fortunate enough to raise more than $300 million in early 2012 to fund its activities for the next five years. Feasibility studies estimate that Donlin will cost about $6.7 billion to construct, so the company will have to raise its half of that sum to put the mine into operation. NOVAGOLD is looking to Donlin to power the company forward for the next 27 years.

“We believe Donlin is the most compelling investment in the gold-mining world—with high grade, the right location, and great human resources,” Deisley says. “Once it’s operating, with the cash flow generated by producing a million-plus ounces of gold a year, the opportunities for NOVAGOLD will be vast.”

David Deisley stands on a 300-ton haul truck at Goldcorp’s Peñasquito Mine, in Mexico. He left the company in 2012 to join NOVAGOLD.
David Deisley stands on a 300-ton haul truck at Goldcorp’s Peñasquito Mine, in Mexico. He left the company in 2012 to join NOVAGOLD.