Nova Scotia coal mine remains closed while officials examine repairs after rockfall
Health & Safety Coal Mining Mining nova scotia
By Keith Doucette
A stop-work order issued following a rockfall last month at Cape Breton’s Donkin coal mine will remain in place until a consultant can determine that the mine is safe, Nova Scotia Labour Department officials said Thursday.
Jeff Dolan, acting executive director for the department’s safety branch, said repairs carried out by the company since the rockfall will be reviewed by an outside consultant before any decision is made on allowing operations to resume.
Dolan said it’s not known at this point how long the mine will remain closed.
The July 15 rockfall — the second within a week at the underground operation — was characterized as “significant.”
“Thankfully in neither case were there any injuries,” Dolan told reporters.
The fallen rock covered a distance of about 15 metres and was 4.5 metres wide and nearly a metre deep, he said. It occurred approximately 1.5 kilometres from the entrance to the mine in the number 2 tunnel, which provides primary access for the mine’s personnel.
“Repairs were made and roof reinforcements were put in place,” said Dolan. “We are now taking the time necessary to be sure everything was done to mitigate further roof falls and ensure that proper repairs were made.”
Dolan said his department wants to know if there is a “root cause” for the falls and if the repairs carried out meet industry standards. “We will await the review by our consultant and then determine next steps,” he said.
The latest rockfall followed a temporary closure after inspectors found a “very small amount” of roof material had fallen on the floor of the tunnel on July 9. In that instance, the mine was given approval to reopen after repair work was completed and inspected.
In May, the department said no penalties or compliance measures would be imposed following the investigation of an underground fire that broke out April 30. Investigators determined the fire was caused by an overheated ball bearing in a conveyor belt used to extract coal from the mine. No one was in the mine when the fire started.
The mine resumed operations last September after it was shuttered in March 2020 amid slumping coal prices and roof collapses that led to repeated stop-work orders.
Dolan said that as of Thursday, operator Kameron Coal Management Ltd. had received 32 warnings, 42 compliance orders and 17 administrative penalties or fines since it reopened. He said the department had carried out 26 inspections.
“The frequency of these safety incidents at Kameron Coal is concerning,” said Labour Minister Jill Balser. “Even though we know roof falls can happen in underground mining, that doesn’t mean we should treat these incidents as normal. Everything must be done to prevent it (falls) before work can resume.”
The Donkin mine began production in February 2017 and the Labour Department says the mine is believed to be the world’s only operating undersea coal mine.