On March 30, 2020, Kameron announced that it was ceasing production operations at the Donkin Mine due to adverse geologic conditions. The Mine will not be sealed and no mining equipment has been removed from site. The Mine is being maintained by a small staff to ventilate and keep the facility dewatered during an idled phase of care and maintenance for an indeterminate period of time.
Before idling the Mine, Kameron was in the Development Phase of the operation where two coal sections were actively developing the Mine’s main underground infrastructure and the first production panel to allow for the long-term and highly active Production Phase, which would incorporate retreat mining. For the retreat mining phase, Kameron was evaluating the viability of installing a longwall mining system which would have reduced Kameron’s operating costs and significantly increased production volumes.
During the Development Phase, Kameron occasionally experienced roof stability where material fell from the ceiling (roof) of certain sections of the tunnel operations. These occurrences are very common to underground coal mining operations. In Donkin’s case, all of the roof falls occurred in areas where the risk was already identified by Kameron, and precautionary measures had been taken. That is the primary reason why no one was ever injured from a roof fall at Donkin.
From 2016 when the Mine development and tunnel refurbishment started, to the end of 2018, Kameron’s mine injury rate was 75% less than the U.S. national underground coal mine injury rate, and none of those injuries were related to a roof fall. In 2018, Nova Scotia saw 5,314 Time Loss Claims across 19 sectors, with the Donkin operation only accounting or 0.06% of those claims.
When roof falls occur, best practices have the operator (Kameron) notify the local safety regulator, which in Nova Scotia’s case is the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education (“NS LAE”). Kameron and NS LAE work jointly to assess the cause and determine the appropriate remediation procedures.
However, as the Mine is the first underground coal mine to operate in Nova Scotia since 2001, NS LAE has been working with the outside assistance of experts from the U.S. Mining Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) to provide it with advanced expertise to properly assess any revisions to Kameron’s ground control procedures at the Mine. According to MSHA, who have toured the Mine in the past, Kameron’s previous roof control procedures at Donkin “exceeded industry best practices for safety.”
In February 2020, Kameron experienced two localized roof falls in one of the operating coal sections over an area where a localized zone of roof geology differed from the typical rock strata of the Mine in that it was weaker. As with all prior roof falls at Donkin, no one was injured. Following the last roof fall on February 13, 2020, a Kameron spokesman said – “the miners are trained to identify signs of [rock] stress. This wasn’t a sudden event. There were signs of this.”
Subsequent to the February roof falls, NS LAE issued stop work orders to Kameron, and following standard procedure, Kameron and NS LAE jointly commenced an assessment of the area of adverse geology with a plan to devise a remediation program for this specific zone and any other future similar occurrences.
However, as a result of COVID-19 related travel restrictions, MSHA consultants from the United States were not available to visit Nova Scotia to assess the geology in the area of the roof falls or to provide NS LAE with advice regarding Kameron’s ground control procedures. On March 30, 2020, when Kameron made the decision to idle the Mine, the operation was still under a stop work order for the affected coal section.
As mentioned above, the Mine has not been sealed and no mining equipment has been removed from the site. The Mine has been placed into an idled phase of care and maintenance for an indeterminate period of time. The Corporation is unaware of Kameron’s timeline to restart operations or if they will. The assessment and potential resolution of the adverse geology at Donkin will take substantial efforts by the NS LAE, MSHA experts, Kameron and other professionals in this field and will be contingent on Kameron’s resolve to recommence operations. This process will take some time as the utmost care, caution and expertise must be deployed. It would not be accurate to categorize the time to conduct these steps as short or to say that Donkin is temporarily suspended.