OHS Canada Magazine

Company plans to reopen Cape Breton coal mine after two-year shutdown: councillor


June 20, 2022
By The Canadian Press

Compliance & Enforcement Workplace Safety

A Cape Breton coal mine that was shuttered two years ago could reopen as early as this fall to cash in on the recent surge in coal prices, a local politician said Thursday.

James Edwards, a regional councillor, said the mine’s owners, Kameron Collieries ULC, recently told a community liaison committee that plans are in the works to restart operations at the Donkin underground mine.

“There are several provincial regulatory permits that are required,” Edwards said in an interview Thursday. “If they were to get all of the required permits tomorrow, it would still take 90 days to resume operations.”

The company, a subsidiary of Cline Group LLC, did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s great news for the area,” said Edwards, whose district in eastern Cape Breton includes the mine. “The primary consideration, of course, is safety, regardless of the price of coal on the world markets.”

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He said the company is hoping to have the mine operating in the fall of this year.

Provincial Labour Minister Jill Balser said her department has been in contact with the company, but she did not provide details.

“Safety is a top priority,” she said Thursday after a cabinet meeting. “We would have to review their operational plan to make sure it’s in compliance with our regulations and safety laws.”

Environment Minister Tim Halman said the company’s industrial approval permit expires in December, but no applications have been filed. “It’s their move,” he said.

The mine was shut down in March 2020 amid slumping coal prices and repeated government stop-work orders following roof falls. More than 100 people lost their jobs at that time.

Kameron Collieries said it decided to cease production due to “adverse geologic conditions.” That decision followed a roof fall on Feb. 13, 2020. No one was injured, but Nova Scotia’s Labour Department suspended operations and sought remediation plans.

Underground coal mining was once the backbone of the island’s economy, an industry that can trace its origins back 300 years.

When the mine started production in February 2017, it was the first underground coal mine to operate in Nova Scotia since 2001. Its twin tunnels extend three kilometres under the Atlantic Ocean.

The rebirth of underground mining in Nova Scotia was seen as a godsend for an economically depressed region desperate for well-paying jobs. But the mine had its share of challenges.

During its three years of operation, there were 12 incidents where rock fell from the ceiling of the mine’s tunnels, according to Morien Resources Corp., which holds a royalty interest in the Donkin mine.

“These occurrences are very common to underground coal mining operations,” Morien said in a statement in April 2020. “In Donkin’s case, all of the roof falls occurred in areas where the risk was already identified by Kameron, and precautionary measures had been taken.”

Since the closure, the mine has been maintained by a small staff. They ensure it is ventilated and kept dry.

Meanwhile, coal prices in the United States surged to an all-time high in March as Russia’s war in Ukraine and an economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic have spurred demand for fossil fuels.

The Donkin mine can produce low-ash, high-energy metallurgical and thermal coal. Metallurgical coal is used primarily for steelmaking, and thermal coal is used in generating electricity.

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