Canada’s only underground coal mine is back in action following a fire in late April that renewed concerns around worker safety.
At a press conference on Friday afternoon, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour said its investigation will wrap up next week and more information about the cause will be released at a later date.
The department has so far not responded to comments from local councillor James Edwards, who told the CBC the mine's conveyor belt system was involved. The company that owns the mine, Kameron Coal, did not return a request for comment.
Gary O'Toole, executive director of the labour department's safety branch, said repairs at the mine are now complete. “There's no ongoing or imminent risk as it relates to this event from a safety perspective.”
The mine reopened last September after closing in 2020 when more than a dozen roof cave-ins prompted a series of on-and-off stop-work orders from the province. Between September 2022 and April 2023, the mine received 23 warnings, 28 compliance orders and 11 administrative penalties, all violations of the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
As of now, the mine hasn’t received any safety warnings for the fire — O’Toole said those would come, if warranted, when the department’s investigation finishes.
Meanwhile, there will be more unplanned inspections at the mine from here on out and a third-party safety review, O’Toole said. Before the initial closure, there was talk of bringing in experts from the United States to help deal with rock falls. Donkin is Canada’s only underground coal mine and the only operating subsea coal mine in the world: its tunnels span three kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean.
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“We're really open to, you know, the expertise that we need to get. We will go where we need to go to get it. There is expertise out there,” O’Toole said.
“It's too early to say definitively ... we're just in the early process of designing what that's going to look like.”
On May 1, the day after the fire, Gary Taje, a retired underground miner and longtime international staff representative at United Mine Workers of America, told Canada’s National Observer some of the safety warnings the mine received so far “pointed exactly to something like this happening.”
“So, I'm not going to say that the company wanted this fire to happen, but I won't call it accidental,” he said.
“I really hope that this is a bit of a wake-up call for that company to start looking after all the little things you should be looking at to prevent the ignition of anything.”