Kameron Coal’s recently opened Donkin mine, the first underground coal operation in Canada’s Cape Breton in 15 years, has already received dozens of warnings for safety violations since it began producing in March this year, a report shows.
According to CBC News, which obtained relevant documents under freedom of information laws, the mine has received 10 compliance orders and 29 warnings for safety infractions, which could risk workers’ lives:
Inspectors with the province’s Labour Department carried out six inspections between the first day of production at Donkin on Feb. 27 and June 15.
During the mine’s first 3½ months of operation, the department issued 10 compliance orders and 29 warnings for violations of workplace safety and underground mining regulations.
And just three weeks after miners started digging for coal, the province ordered the entire operation closed because of ventilation problems.
There was also a power failure at the mine triggered by a snowstorm on March 22, which caused the main fan at the mine to stop working, official documents quoted by CBC show. Donkin’s standby power supply, required under the Nova Scotia’s mining regulations, could not be used at the time because Nova Scotia Power had not commissioned it yet.
“Without proper ventilation, methane can build up to dangerous levels and cause an explosion,” the article says, but the company took the appropriate measures outlined in its safety protocol and brought all underground workers to the surface within 15 minutes of the ventilation interruption.
CBC’s report has brought back sad memories to locals, which still remember the 1992 explosion at the Westray mine, in Plymouth, a small town of Nova Scotia, which killed 26 workers.
Donkin Coal management has repeatedly said that, unlike in Westray’s, safety at the operation is a top priority. Owner Kameron Coal, a subsidiary of US mining giant Cline Group, has also committed to meet emissions requirements, comply with federal-provincial agreements on carbon reduction and deliver a reasonably priced product, the firm said when opening the mine.
Government officials not only back the company’s safety standards, but noted that most of the warnings Donkin received in the past months were “non-imminent danger” violations.
“No lives were ever at risk as a result of any of these violations,” Scott Nauss, senior director of inspection and compliance with the Nova Scotia Labour Department’s occupational health and safety division told Cape Breton Post.
Nauss added it was hard to determine if the number of violations was high because Donkin is the first mine operating under new provincial regulation in years.
Cline Group gained full control of the Donkin Mine by 2015, after purchasing a 75% majority stake in the operation from Glencore and 25% from Halifax-based Morien Resources (TSX-V: MOX), which has a royalty on coal production from the mine.
With a resource of 481 million tonnes — 227 million tonnes in the indicated category and another 254 million tonnes in the inferred — the deposit has enough low ash, high-energy coking and thermal coal to last for 25 years or more.
Donkin is expected to produce 2.75 million tonnes of coal a year over the next three to four years.
Coal mining in Cape Breton dates back to the early 1700s, when the French needed the fuel for their nearby fortress. The industry has long been considered a way of life on the East Coast island.