Owners of Cape Breton’s Donkin coal mine permanently close underground operation
March 30, 2020 | By Keith Doucette
DONKIN, N.S. – A troubled underground coal mining operation in Cape Breton has been permanently closed by its owners.
In a statement released Monday, Kameron Collieries ULC said it was ceasing production operations at the Donkin mine due to “adverse geologic conditions.”
The company said the mine would not be sealed and would be maintained by a small staff to ventilate the facility and keep it free of water.
“The mine has been closed,” company spokesman Paul McEachern confirmed in an interview. “There are no plans forthcoming to extract more coal from Donkin.”
In its statement, Kameron Collieries expressed disappointment at the turn of events for a mine that had only begun operations in February 2017.
“The company … wishes to thank its dedicated workforce and the local community who supported this important investment in the region,” it said.
McEachern said about 100 mine staff are being laid off while about five workers are being kept on to maintain the mine. He said the workers were being informed Monday morning.
The move comes after a section of the underground mine experienced two roof collapses within a two-week period last month – no one was hurt in either incident.
The latest rockfalls followed a roof collapse in July 2019, as well as two other rockfalls in December 2018.
Earlier this month, provincial Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis said the government was bringing in mine inspectors from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to look into conditions at a section of the underground mine that experienced the most recent roof collapses.
Kousoulis said the American help was needed because there isn’t the expertise available in Canada for a mine like Donkin, which operates under the seabed.
Workers at the mine were not unionized, but Gary Taje, the United Mine Workers of America’s international representative in Canada, said he wasn’t surprised by the closure.
“I’ve been in contact with people at the mine in the past month or so that were concerned the mine would be shutting down,” said Taje.
He said the union wanted to see the mine succeed, but had concerns about safety.
“This mine was very important for the Sydney-Glace Bay area,” Taje said. “But on the other hand … what price do you put on coal? Men’s lives are important and we wanted the mine to operate and to operate safely.”
Geoff MacLellan, Nova Scotia’s business minister who also represents the Glace Bay riding, said the closure was a surprise to the provincial government which was only informed of the company’s intent Sunday evening.
MacLellan said the closure is “catastrophic” for the mine workers, their families and a local economy that is also dealing with the impact of COVID-19.
He said the price of coal has dropped, which hasn’t helped a mine that seemingly couldn’t overcome its structural problems.
“This is real bad news on top of what’s already a real uncertain and perilous environment from an economic perspective,” MacLellan said.