Nova Scotia

Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton closing permanently

Operator Kameron Coal said the Donkin shutdown is due to geological conditions in the mine, which has been plagued by roof falls for more than a year.

Company blames ongoing roof falls underground

Kameron Coal announced Monday it is closing the Donkin Mine permanently. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The underground Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton is closing permanently.

Operator Kameron Coal announced the decision on Monday morning, saying the shutdown is due to geological conditions in the mine, which has been plagued by roof falls for more than a year.

Paul McEachern, a spokesperson for Kameron Collieries, said the company is disappointed, but the decision is final.

"The company has decided to close the mine," he said. "I would not want to give a false impression that this is a pause. This a decision to cease operations at the mine."  

No one was injured in the roof falls, but the mine operator was required to follow increasingly strict safety regulations.

The mine opened in 2017 and both the company and the Nova Scotia government have brought in experts from the United States to try to prevent more falls.

'Very disappointed'

The company said the mine will not be sealed, but that a small staff of about five will be kept on to ventilate it and keep it from flooding.

At one point, the mine employed about 140 people. Most received layoff notices Monday.

"The company is very, very disappointed that it's had to make this decision and it knows that this impacts those families," McEachern said.

The price of coal has dropped over the last year due to changing demand in international markets, but McEachern said that did not weigh into the decision to close the mine.

"The decision is based solely on geologic conditions that are challenging," he said. "Commodity prices don't particularly factor into this decision."

McEachern said some coal still stored at the mine site is being moved to the port in Sydney harbour, but production has ceased.

"There will be a small maintenance crew that will be on site to de-water the mine, to ensure the ventilation of the mine and keep it in a steady state, but the days of mining at Donkin have closed as of today."

Paul Carrigan, chair of the Donkin mine community liaison committee, says the mine closure was shocking and will have a deep effect on Donkin and surrounding communities. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Paul Carrigan, chair of the mine's community liaison committee, said the decision was completely unexpected.

"My first thought was the COVID-19, before I read the release," he said. "Perhaps the slowdown in the economy and the price of coal and then I saw the release and it was shocking."

Carrigan said the mine closure will have a deep effect on Donkin and surrounding communities.

"I think it's significant," he said. "One hundred and forty good paying jobs. A lot of people came back from out West to stay home and work and be with their families, so it's very disappointing."

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan says the closure is a catastrophe for local families at a time when the provincial economy is already taking a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Robert Short/CBC)

Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan, who is also the province's business minister, said the closure is a catastrophe for local families and the local economy, which is already taking a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Today is just a time to support those workers and to let them know that we're thinking about them, because you know this is real tough news at a time when we really didn't need it," he said.

MacLellan said the price of coal has dropped, but the mining company was prepared to continue digging Donkin coal to supply Nova Scotia Power and its worldwide customers.

However, he said, increasingly costly roof support procedures and stop-work orders from the province made that impossible.

"At a time when revenue is tough in the best-case scenario, they just couldn't keep up that process of having roof falls and being required, rightly so, to shut down," MacLellan said.

Nova Scotia Power said in an email the utility is disappointed with the mine's closure and it feels for people affected by the decision.

"Donkin mine has provided our Lingan generation facility with an economic alternative to imported coal for the last two years," the company said.

The power company also said it does not expect any disruption to its fuel supply, because it maintains contingency plans.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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