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Expert recommends two-phase approach to reopen Nova Scotia's idled Donkin mine

A geological expert hired by the province of Nova Scotia to conduct a review of the idled Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton is recommending a two-phase approach to safely reopen it.

Andrew Corkum was hired by the Labour Department in late September to look at the root causes of safety incidents at the underground mine.

The mine received a stop-work order in July after two rock falls and the company has been waiting for provincial approval to resume operations. The mine has had several safety inspections in the last four months, but has not yet received approval.

Corkum was also tasked with determining whether mine owner Kameron Coal is doing all it can to mitigate roof falls and keep workers safe

Alongside provincial officials, Corkum shared details on the report in Halifax on Wednesday afternoon.

Corkum shared he found seasonal changes and humidity impact the mine’s roof stability and recommends a two-phase approach to address the issues.

“I believe if they do the remainder of the activities that I suggested in phase one then it should be compliant with industry standards for safety,” said Corkum Wednesday.

Nova Scotia Labour, Skills and Immigration Minister Jill Balser, geological expert Andrew Corkum and Scott Nauss, the senior executive director of safety with Labour, Skills and Immigration. (Paul Dewitt/CTV Atlantic)


Based on his recommendations, the department of Labour, Skills and Immigration has issued two orders for work it says must be completed by Feb. 29, 2024 for the stop work order to be lifted.

The report recommends updating the mine’s hazard assessment classification system and adding further monitoring measures in the tunnel.

“We've laid out a clear path to compliance and lifting of the stop work order and now the ball is in the mine company’s court,” said Scott Nauss, senior executive director of safety with Labour, Skills and Immigration.


The second phase of Corkum’s report recommends a review of the mine’s ground control management plan.

The province says it has issued an order requiring a review of the mine's ground control plan by a third-party engineer.

The mine can operate during the winter while working on this order, though the province says Phase 2 must be finished and the consultant's recommendations implemented before it can operate in the higher humidity expected in the spring and summer.


The mine has laid off its 130 workers and has placed its operation in an "idled state" with no time table on when or if operations will resume.

“I know how difficult this has been on the workers. We now have important information to help keep them safe, that is our ultimate goal, to ensure they can return home to their families at the end of a work day,” said Labour Minister Jill Balser.

When asked why the update was held in Halifax and not in Cape Breton, Balser said the decision was based on scheduling.

“It's more about personal schedules and maybe something to definitely take into consideration,” she said.

There was no comment Wednesday from Kameron Coal on the recommendations.

With files from The Canadian Press

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