Nova Scotia

Donkin coal mine resumes operations after 2-year closure

Inspectors with the province's occupational health and safety team were on site Tuesday in Donkin, N.S., to inspect the only remaining underground coal operation in Nova Scotia. Some mine operations have resumed after shutting down two years ago.

Province also directed Kameron Coal to update greenhouse gas management plan

Kameron Coal shut down the Donkin coal mine in March 2020 and its reopening has been in question ever since. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Inspectors with the province's occupational health and safety team were on site Tuesday in Donkin, N.S., to inspect the only remaining underground coal operation in Nova Scotia.

Some mine operations resumed this week after shutting down two years ago.

Regular safety inspections, announced and unannounced, will be conducted by the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, according to a release.

The owner of the Donkin mine, Kameron Coal, is required to submit monthly reports on ventilation, main fan and emergency power supply as well as stone dust sampling. 

The company must also submit inspection reports upon request.

Gary O'Toole, senior executive director with the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, said a Sydney-based employee will conduct the inspections.

"Our presence at the mine is not continuous, it is intermittent and that's to ensure that any activities that have been identified in the safety plans to ensure safety underground are being followed," O'Toole told CBC's Mainstreet Cape Breton host Wendy Bergfeldt on Wednesday.

Regulatory approvals required

Before the mine could reopen, the Department of Labour reviewed Kameron Coal's operational plans to ensure they complied with occupational health and safety laws.

In June, the department received seven safety plans that needed approval before work could resume.

Experts conducted a "thorough review" of the plans, according to the department. 

The Donkin coal mine emitted more than 76,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases in its first year of operation, and more than 151,000 tonnes last year, even though it has been idled since 2020. (Radio-Canada)

The province's Department of Environment and Climate Change directed Kameron Coal to update its greenhouse gas management plan to ensure measures are in place to mitigate emissions.

That plan was approved last month. 

The company committed to installing a functional system to remove gases within 18 months of restarting production. 

That system is estimated to reduce methane emissions by up to 35 per cent when the mine is operating. 

Kameron Coal is required to update the plan within three months of resuming operations to focus on operational emissions.

The province says it will continue to monitor the mine's greenhouse gas emissions and expects the mine to meet Nova Scotia's legislated greenhouse gas emissions targets.

The Department of Labour said a stop-work order will remain in place in areas where rocks fell previously. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Before the mine was closed in 2020, the Labour Department issued a series of stop-work orders due to multiple roof falls.

The stop-work order remains in place in areas where rocks fell previously, according to the department. 

Jill Balser, the minister of labour, skills and Immigration, said in a statement the province's priority is to make sure workplaces have safety plans in place. 

Since Feb. 2017, the department completed 102 inspections, resulting in 152 warnings, 119 compliance orders and 37 administrative penalties issued at the mine. 

The mine's current industrial approval expires in December. The company applied for a renewal earlier this month and the Environment Department is required to make a decision within 60 days.

Community response

Cape Breton Regional Municipality District 8 Coun. James Edwards sits on the mine's community liaison committee.

He says the mine's reopening will have a substantial economic impact for the community. 

"When you have an employer resume operations with upwards of 150 or more good-paying jobs, that has to be seen as a positive announcement for sure," he said.

Still, Edwards said safety is his biggest concern. 

"You can have all of the coal and you can have all of the good-paying jobs and all of the bonuses that go with that. But it's not worth a darn unless the safety is priority one," Edwards said.

"I can tell you from my discussions with my management, safety is priority one."

With files from Mainstreet Cape Breton

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