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Province lays out changes needed for Donkin Coal Mine to reach compliance

By Evan Taylor Nov 15, 2023 | 3:34 PM

The Donkin Coal Mine in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Photo: File Photo.

A consultant’s report has delivered crucial insights into ensuring the safety of the Donkin coal mine, prompting the Nova Scotia Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration to issue substantial directives for its operations.

The report, conducted by Andrew Corkum, an associate professor in Dalhousie University’s department of civil and resource engineering, underscores the impact of seasonal changes and humidity on roof stability within the mine.

In response, the Department has outlined a two-phase strategy to address these issues, emphasizing the overarching goal of ensuring the safety of mine workers.

Jill Balser, the Minister of Labour, Skills, and Immigration, stressed the historical significance of mining in Nova Scotia and the imperative to prevent accidents. “Nova Scotia has a long history of mining, and Nova Scotians are aware of incidents when miners did not come home safe. That can never happen again,” she said. “Our focus has been making sure these workers can return to work safely. We now have important information to help make the mine safer for these workers.”

The first phase of recommended changes demands an immediate response to the report’s findings. This includes updating the hazard assessment classification system and implementing additional monitoring measures in the tunnel. These directives come in the wake of a stop work order issued in July due to roof falls, with Kameron Coal Management Ltd., the operator of the Donkin coal mine, facing the task of swiftly addressing these Phase 1 directives. The stop work order, in effect since July, followed a significant roof fall in Tunnel 2 and a smaller roof fall on July 9. Fortunately, no injuries were reported from either incident.

The Department has issued orders for these specific actions, making their completion a prerequisite for lifting the current stop work order. Once the Department deems the specified changes satisfactory, the mine can resume production.

The subsequent Phase 2 proposes a comprehensive review of the ground control management plan to align with the report’s findings. This review aims to ensure the mine is adequately prepared for seasonal changes and periods of high humidity, further fortifying its safety measures. The Department has mandated a third-party engineer with expertise in mining and tunnelling to conduct this review. While the mine is permitted to operate during the winter, Phase 2 must be completed, and the consultant’s recommendations implemented to continue operations during the higher humidity spring and summer months.

Andrew Corkum, the report’s author, stressed the importance of drawing on extensive global experience in similar mines and tunnels to address safety concerns effectively. “There are always challenges with understanding the implications of geological conditions on safe performance,” Corkum noted. “I provided the Department with a review to better understand how the geological conditions in this mine may affect roof falls and inform appropriate safety decisions.”

When asked how long it would take for the mine to complete the needed changes both Minister Balser and Corkum said it would be inappropriate to speculate as that is ultimately up to the mine’s management.

As it stands all workers at the mine are currently laid off, with the last few layoffs being made last Friday, after a majority were initially laid off after the July 15 shutdown.