Donkin Debate Continues

It is unfortunate that Stephen Drake’s letter was published before our company, Morien Resources, distributed the truth of the situation in a press release this morning [April 2]. I would like to add some proper context to Drake’s letter and correct some inaccuracies. I am submitting this letter because those who have an interest in the Donkin Mine deserve to have the basic facts before casting judgement over Kameron’s activities.

Drake says that Kameron “is permanently ceasing operations.” Permanent closure brings the removal of mining equipment and the sealing of the tunnels.  None of that is happening at Donkin.

Drake asks the question: “Who would walk away from an investment approaching $300 million dollars in taxpayer and private monies just because the roof-bolting idea failed so badly?”

The roof-bolting program did not fail badly. Roof falls are an inevitability in most underground coal mines. However, Donkin was the first underground coal mine to operate in our province since 2001 and thus, following any roof fall at the mine, our Nova Scotia coal mine regulators forced it to shut down (this is common industry practice) and then consult with the US Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to provide the expertise to properly assess Kameron’s roof-bolting program.

One of the issues is the operational downtime that always ensued following a fall while the Nova Scotia regulators tried to get MSHA up to the mine. After the latest roof- falls in February, as a result of COVID-19 related travel restrictions, MSHA consultants couldn’t travel to Donkin to assess the geology in the area of the roof falls in order to provide our regulators with advice. Thus, one of the two coal sections at Donkin was under a stop work order from early February to March 30 when Kameron finally idled the operation.

How long were they going to be idled? Two more months? Four?  We all agree that mine safety is of paramount importance to all, but what we need, in my opinion, are in-house mining experts at our mine safety regulatory agency that are able to suggest corrective measures, without bringing in outside consultants, and in a more timely fashion.  I think Drake would agree that almost two months of idled downtime from a roof fall associated with a localized pocket of weaker roof geology isn’t common practice.

Drake says: “I find it unimaginable that Kameron Collieries cannot implement a ground control system modeled after the proven systems used by generations of Cape Breton coal miners to tame the forces of Mother Nature. As a fourth-generation coal miner, my gut tells me they could – they just decided not to.”

Is Drake saying that Kameron intentionally chose to allow roof falls?  In any case, according to MSHA, who are experts in coal mine roof control programs, and who have toured Donkin in the past, Kameron’s previous roof control procedures at Donkin “actually exceeded industry best practices for safety.”  From 2016 when the Mine development and tunnel refurbishment started, to the end of 2018, Kameron’s mine injury rate has been 75% less than the US 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 Donkin only accounting for 0.06% of those claims.

The interested public should not give too much credibility to scrum-type conversations in the press that are focused on negligence and unsafe work conditions. The fact is Kameron is an experienced operator which was working closely with our local regulators to exceed industry best practices for an operation that is already very safe relative to other Nova Scotian industrial sectors and U.S. underground coal mines. Before the February stop work orders, Donkin directly employed nearly 150 people, and that could grow significantly if the mine ever got running at full capacity. Donkin is a 30-year operation in a region with nearly 17% unemployment (three-times the national average). Cape Breton deserves better than poorly informed negative opinions. It deserves factually supported positive conversation about what it will take to get the Cline Group back to Cape Breton.

Dawson Brisco (CEO) and John Budreski (Executive Chairman)
Morien Resources Corp.

Editor’s Note: Morien Resources Corp. is a “Canada based, dividend paying, mining development company that holds royalty interests in” in the Donkin Coal Mine.


Editor’s Second Note: Due to an error on my part, the wrong version of Stephen Drake’s response letter was published. I regret the mistake. Here is the correct version:

Stephen Drake responds:

Last week, Kameron Collieries official spokesperson, Paul McEachern, reportedly said a few things supporting an inference of permanence regarding the closure of Donkin Mine. A review of the media reports did not reveal the word “permanent” scribed as an actual quote. What was revealed – in quotation marks – was attributed to Mr. McEachern, succinctly, by the CBC:

The company has decided to close the mine. I would not want to give a false impression that this is a pause. This is a decision to cease operation at the mine.

Another CBC quote has Mr. McEachern stating: “…the days of mining at Donkin have closed as of today.” Mr. McEachern does not give the impression of anything temporary.

Aerial view Donkin Coal Mine

Aerial view, Donkin Mine. (Source: Morien Resources)

I raise this issue in relation to a 2 April 2020 press release from Morien Resources Corp., claiming the media reports of the permanent cessation and closure of the Donkin Mine were misleading. I thought, maybe Morien knows something the rest of us don’t. Maybe Morien has solid evidence to prove that the closure and cessation is just a pause — something temporary. A light at the end of the Donkin tunnels perhaps?

According to my Black’s Law Dictionary, the word temporary means “existing or continuing for a limited time.” I did not get that impression from either the online release from Kameron or the spoken representations attributed to Paul McEachern. Absent evidence to the contrary, from Mr. McEachern, Kameron or the Cline Group, it appears that the evidence supports the inference of a cessation that fails to meet the definition of temporary.

Further evidence of the type of closure may be inferred from the undisputed fact that Kameron handed out a mountain of pink slips last week. I did not see one comment, from either Kameron or any laid-off employee, that the pink slips were stamped temporary. I just saw a lot of sad faces and yet another group of coal miners facing an uncertain future.

If Morien Resources has any objective evidence that the “days of mining at Donkin have closed,” means anything but permanent closure, perhaps the spokesperson for Morien Resources would be kind enough to share that evidence with the public. Better still, Morien Resources might be in a position to contact the actual spokespersons for Kameron and the Cline Group and convince them to put the non-permanent nature of the cessation and closure in writing. Barring such written evidence – it all sounds pretty permanent to me.

I should note that after I submitted the comments above, I became aware that the CEO of Morien Resources Corp., Dawson Brisco, took particular umbrage at my earlier letter on the continuing roof falls at Donkin Mine and the permanent nature of the words and phrases used by Kameron to describe the closure and cessation of the Donkin Mine. An obviously emotional Mr. Brisco strongly inferred –-  without objective evidence — that my comments were neither truthful nor factual. Whew, I think I hit a nerve.

While Mr. Brisco is entitled to his own opinion, he is not entitled to his own facts. The information provided by the real spokespersons for Kameron Collieries led many to believe that a) despite a strong roof -control plan, the Donkin roof keeps falling; b) despite ongoing expert advice, the progressive roof-bolting plan has failed to hold up the roof; c) Kameron Collieries has provided no information that the geology-based closure is temporary; d) the truth hurts. I’ll trust the public to figure out the fact-based truth for themselves.

One final thing: Mr. Brisco has more nerve than a tooth to willfully invent a Trumpian innuendo about me, that has no basis in fact or truth, to schlep his opinion to the public. He maliciously posed his cheap shot as a question: “Is Drake saying that Kameron intentionally chose to allow roof falls?” In my nearly 23 years in the coal industry and 15 years as a lawyer, I have never heard anything further from the truth. That’s pretty low.

If Mr. Brisco is angry enough to be that nasty — maybe he should have a Snickers Bar.

Stephen J. W. Drake
4th generation coal miner from New Waterford