Nova Scotia

Donkin mine exec quits after Nova Scotia voices safety concerns

A senior executive working on the reopening of a Cape Breton coal mine has quit after the province wanted him removed because his involvement in a fatal mine explosion in West Virginia.

Chris Blanchard was in charge of West Virginia mine when it exploded, killing 26 workers

An ambulance is seen after entering the Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W. Va. early April 10, 2010. A violent explosion at the mine, eerily similar to that at Nova Scotia's Westray Mine in 1992, claimed 29 lives. (The Associated Press)

The man who ran a West Virginia mine that exploded six years ago, killing 29 miners, is no longer involved in plans to reopen Donkin Mine

Nova Scotia objected to Chris Blanchard operating the Cape Breton coal mine after learning of his connection to the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. 

Labour Minister Kelly Regan said there were eerie similarities between what led to that explosion and the one that killed 26 miners at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S., in 1992. 

Those concerns were passed along to Kameron Collieries, which will operate Donkin.

"We indicated that to them that we weren't comfortable with this individual being involved in the day-to-day management of the mine because of what had happened in West Virginia," she said.

Regan said the company was responsive to those concerns.

'Valued production over safety'

But a company spokesperson, Tanya Collier, disputed the connection between the province's objection and Blanchard's decision to quit. She said he left the company for personal and family reasons.

A U.S. Department of Labour investigation into the West Virginia mine explosion said "corporate culture was the root cause of the tragedy." That workplace culture "valued production over safety, and broke the law as they endangered the lives of their miners."

The explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine was triggered by a methane ignition and fuelled by coal dust, which is exactly what happened at the Westray Mine. Investigators in both instances found evidence of worker intimidation and advance notice of inspections, as well as the buildup of explosive levels of coal dust.

Regan said she doesn't want mistakes of the past repeated.

"There will be no mining taking place at Donkin unless it can be done safely," she said.