Nova Scotia

Donkin mine still exceeding greenhouse gas cap 2 years after closing

The underground coal mine in Donkin, N.S., is exceeding the province's limit on greenhouse gas emissions, but is not part of the cap-and-trade program due to federal rules.

Owner Kameron Coal not subject to cap-and-trade due to federal rules

The Donkin coal mine is closed, but a small crew maintains pumps to keep it from flooding and to vent gases. (Radio-Canada)

Donkin's underground coal mine has exceeded Nova Scotia's cap for greenhouse gas emitters nearly every year since it opened in 2017, including the two years since it shut down, but the mine's owner has never participated in the province's cap-and-trade program.

The provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change says that's because underground coal mines are exempt from federal cap-and-trade rules.

In its first year of operation, the mine exceeded the cap of 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, producing 76,337 tonnes of greenhouse gases, according to provincial quantification, reporting and verification data. The province publishes the numbers online annually.

The mine is not recorded as having any other emissions after that, and even though owner Kameron Coal shut down operations in 2020, the mine has continued to produce gases exceeding the 50,000-tonne cap, according to the Sierra Club of Canada and the province.

"It's outrageous, really, and to me it feels like one of those moments where you say, 'OK, everybody out of the pool. What's going on here?'" said Tynette Deveaux, communications co-ordinator for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Atlantic campaign.

Underground coal mines excluded

The provincial reports show verified greenhouse gas emissions from all companies who exceed the 50,000-tonne cap, including ExxonMobil's former natural gas plant in Guysborough until it ceased operation, Kameron Coal's Donkin mine in 2017 and 2018, Lafarge Canada's Brookfield cement plant, Northern Pulp's plant in Pictou and five Nova Scotia Power generating stations.

After Donkin mine's initial report in 2017, Kameron Coal's greenhouse gas emissions were listed as "X" the following year and neither the mine nor the company appears on the list in subsequent years.

That's because the provincial regulations were amended in 2018 to exclude underground coal mines, Tracy Barron, spokeswoman for the provincial Environment Department, said in an email.

"This change was made because the federal government did not require methane from ventilation and degasification systems in underground coal mining to be covered in cap-and-trade carbon pricing systems so the requirement for verification was removed," she said.

However, the Sierra Club of Canada says it has obtained the minutes of a Donkin community liaison committee meeting in June, in which the company said its emissions in 2019 — its last full year of operation — were nearly 423,000 tonnes.

Emissions were reportedly nearly 371,000 tonnes the following year.

The 2021 numbers are not posted online by the Environment Department, but Barron said Donkin mine's emissions last year were just over 151,000 tonnes.

Gases vented for safety

Even though the mine is not operating, a small crew maintains pumps to keep it from flooding and to vent gases.

"For safety purposes, ventilation is necessary to provide breathable air for employees and to keep methane and other noxious gases at acceptable levels," Barron said.

Kameron Coal recently submitted an update to its greenhouse gas management plan, which is currently under review, she said. Kameron Coal did not respond to a request for comment.

Two large trucks pass on a dusty road leading past the gate and guardhouse at the entrance to a mine.
The underground coal mine in Donkin, N.S., has been shut down while workers repair a roof fall that occurred over the weekend in the main access tunnel. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The company is planning to reopen the mine and has even run advertisements looking for underground miners, engineers and electricians on an online job board.

Deveaux said it is unacceptable that the company is not required to verify or publicly report its greenhouse gas emissions and the government should not allow the mine to reopen.

"When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming the globe as we all know, there is no case to be made for reopening the mine," she said.

"There's absolutely no way to mitigate, in any significant way, the emissions that would come from mining this coal. The only way to mitigate these emissions is to close the mine."

Proponents say the mine brings good paying jobs to an island that needs the economic boost.

But Deveaux said the province should apply its cap-and-trade rules to the mine and force it to buy carbon credits to cover the amounts it has exceeded the cap.

"I would like to know how much this company owes the people of Nova Scotia and maybe that money can be collected and put toward supporting people in Cape Breton who need good, safe jobs," she said.



Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at