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‘There remains no clear path’

Future of Donkin Mine still uncertain


SYDNEY — The future of the Donkin Mine remains unclear.

“I think that's the core message from our team here at Morien is that ... while we appreciate the advancement in the stop work order file, it's far from over,” said Dawson Brisco, president and CEO of Morien Resources Corp., which has a royalty stake in the coal mine, operated by Kameron Coal.

In a news release early Thursday morning, Morien Resources said it is of the view "that a potential return to production will not be imminent and that this is a complex and evolving situation which will involve satisfying the conditions to lift the (stop work order), and also resolution of some regulatory and related matters to return the mine to long-term, stable production."

In a phone interview with the Cape Breton Post, Brisco said the Department of Labour gave the impression at its Wednesday news conference the situation was “on a good path.”

"There's still 130 people looking for a new paycheque,” Brisco said.

“From our perspective, there remains no clear path for Cameron to resume production. OK. Full stop.

“The concern is that another roof fall will result in another four or five months or longer work stoppage from Labour again … the decision to idle goes beyond lifting the stop work order and … the crux of the problem centres around the regulatory uncertainty that this has created for this massive, massive project.”

Brisco said the department isn’t adequately staffed internally to regulate the mine without relying on outside consultants.

At Wednesday’s news conference, the department said Donkin was the most heavily inspected worksite in the province.


“This avoidable situation stems from a lack of expertise within the department,” Brisco said.

”Everybody involved with the mine — the operators, the miners, the service providers — but not including the Department of Labour knew of the attributes of the operation and how to deal with them in a safe and efficient way. But not retaining the expertise to properly regulate Donkin, the (Department of Labour) has failed the operation in my opinion.”

The provincial department of Labour, Skills and Immigration held a news conference in Halifax Wednesday afternoon on the work of a consultant appointed after roof falls this summer and indicated that the stop work orders were being revised.

The mine has been under a stop work order since July when there were two roof falls. Though there were no injuries, one fall was described as significant. They involved access tunnels 2 and 3.

The consultant, Andrew Corkum, a civil and resource engineering associate professor at Dalhousie University, found seasonal changes and humidity impact roof stability in the mine and recommended a two-phase approach to address the trouble.

The first phase would allow the mine to open in winter based on the company updating the hazard assessment classification system and adding further monitoring measures.

The second phase recommends a review of the ground control management plan and to prepare the mine for seasonal changes and periods of high humidity.

Though the ground support was improved as a result of the summer incidents, it’s recommended Kameron bring in an outside engineering firm with the appropriate expertise to recommend further enhancements.

Phase 2 must be finished to continue operating in the


“The independent review from Dr. Corkum and team actually calls for another independent review,” Brisco said.

“And so what happens when Labour doesn't like what this next report says in February or whenever it's submitted by Kameron? And on the subject of humidity, it's a well known and accepted fact that humidity plays a role in underground mining operations.

“The point here is that it should not have taken four months to figure that out. And so there's just too much regulatory uncertainty from

the regulator. They believe they handled this file properly and that's categorically false in my opinion.”

Brisco said there needs to be some urgency and expediency within the department when it comes to regulating roof falls.

“And one very obvious way to avoid that is to staff up your office adequately enough to avoid leaning on outside consultants which tend to drag out the work stoppage time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the province released Corkum’s report on Thursday.

“The Tunnel 2 and Tunnel 3 access tunnels are considered critical mine infrastructure because all mine access and ventilation/air flow must

pass through these two tunnels. It is industry standard that the stability of the access tunnels must meet a higher level of safety than other operational mine openings and can sometimes approach the safety level of some civil engineering tunnels. This is particularly true given that Donkin Mine is located undersea with few similar, comparable operations worldwide,” it said.

The report noted the unwitnessed roof fall July 15 occurred approximately 1,500 metres from the entrance to the mine in Tunnel 2 and measured about 15.2 m in length, 4.6 m in width, and 0.9 m in height. It was four days after the coal mine reopened following a smaller roof fall on July 9.





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