New Brunswick·New

PotashCorp blows up service shaft at Penobsquis mine

With rain beating down, people watched from their cars as a major piece of a PotashCorp mine was brought to the ground in a controlled demolition.

Controlled demolition marks the end of the 1st phase of decommissioning the Penobsquis mine

Watch the demolition of the service shaft at Potash Corp's Penobsquis mine

4 years ago
Friday's demolition marks the first phase of decommissioning the mine. It will continue to be decommissioned over the next two years. 0:36

With raining beating down, people watched from their cars as a major piece of a PotashCorp mine near Sussex was brought to the ground in a controlled demolition.

On Friday at 7 a.m., the service shaft towering over the company's original mine in Penobsquis was toppled.

The shaft once carried miners and materials in and out of the mine, and its destruction marks the end of the first phase of the decommissioning process.

The service shaft at PotashCorp's Penobsquis mine was brought down in a controlled detonation this morning at 7 a.m. (Matthew Bingley/CBC )

Production at the Penobsquis mine officially ceased in 2015.

In January, the provincial Environment Department gave the company the green light for the continued flooding of the mine with salt brine, which has been leaking into it since 1998. 

Several pieces were removed during the year, a company spokesperson said.

"We have been taking down other buildings, such as the mine warehouse, salt storage buildings, the conveyor infrastructure, the tailings shed," Randy Burton said in an email.

Friday morning, several people pulled to the side of the road to watch the demolition of service shaft.

An air-horn sounded, followed by a flash at the base, and then a loud boom. The shaft fell back and now lies in a debris field of former buildings.

Jim Andrew watches the demolition of the service shaft with his grandchildren, who have two relatives who used to work at the mine. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"It's inevitable when you start a mine that there's going to be a day when the mine's no longer," said Jim Andrew, who watched the demolition from his truck with his grandchildren. Two of their relatives used to work at the mine.

Closure of the newer Picadilly mine across the road, where operations halted in 2016, has been a major blow to the region.

"With the new mine across the street," he said, "it was very disappointing for the people of this area to see that it didn't work out."

The service shaft once carried workers and materials in and out of the mine. It's demolition marks the end of the first phase of the mine's decommissioning process. The mine's warehouse, salt storage buildings, conveyor infrastructure, and the tailings shed have also been removed. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

When PotashCorp closed the Picadilly mine, it cut about 430 jobs. According to Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne, the company has maintained about 35 to 40 workers at the mine.

Chelsea Nightingale was sent to take photos of the demolition for her boyfriend and his father, who both worked at the mine, but narrowly missed it. She said her boyfriend's father worked there just after the mine was built and didn't want to witness its destruction.

"It was pretty emotional," said Nightingale, "so he wasn't coming." Her boyfriend found it a struggle to find work after the layoffs and bounced around from job-to-job.

"He's been back and forth between a lot of positions, a lot of labour jobs, and there's a lot of layoffs" she said. "It's definitely hard."

Ernest Otis, who worked at the mine for almost three decades, says its closure has had an economic impact on several municipalities around Sussex. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Ernest Otis, who retired from the mine after 28 years, agreed it was sad to watch it demolished.

"It affects everyone around here when it quit — stores and all that stuff," he said.

The company said it will continue to remove more buildings next year. In 2019, it plans to demolish the production shaft, which once brought up thousands of tonnes of potash.


Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.