Canadian agencies take comment on environmental review for Donkin coal mine

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Nova Scotia Environment’s Environmental Assessment Branch are taking public comment until Sept. 14 on an environmental impact statement for the Donkin Export Coking Coal Project located on Cape Breton Island.

They also said in a July 16 notice that they invite the public to comment on the proposed measures to prevent or mitigate those effects as identified by the proponent. The proposed project is subject to both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Nova Scotia’s Environment Act and is undergoing a cooperative environmental assessment process.

Xstrata Coal Donkin Management Ltd. is proposing the construction, operation and decommissioning of an underground coal mine facility at the site of the existing Donkin mine located on the northeastern tip of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. The mine would have a lifespan of 30 plus years and extract approximately 3.6 million tonnes of coal per year.

The project proposes a multi-continuous miner underground operation producing approximately 3.6 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of run of mine coal that is subsequently washed to provide approximately 2.75 Mtpa of product coal that is primarily suitable for coking coal markets, but may also supply thermal coal markets. A Coal Handling and Processing Plant (CHPP) capable of processing 3.6 Mtpa of raw coal will be constructed to produce coal that will then go to a barge load-out facility.

“Product coal will be loaded onto circa 4,000 dwt barges which will be tugged an estimated 8.8 km to a transshipment facility in deeper waters in Mira Bay where it will be loaded onto bulk carriers up to Cape Size vessels for transport to international markets,” said the EIS. “While the primary method of product coal transportation for the Project is marine transportation, trucking of coal may occur should marine transportation prove impractical at any time.”

Pending regulatory approval, construction of the barge load-out facility is planned to start in the fourth quarter of 2014 and to be completed by the second quarter of 2016. Construction of the CHPP is expected to begin in 2013 and take about 17 months to complete including commissioning. The project is expected to achieve full production by the end of 2017 following an exploration phase which will be completed in 2015, the EIS noted.

Both project partners exiting their positions

The EIS acknowledges a prospective change of ownership for this project. The 75% owner, international miner Xstrata plc, has said it wants to sell its share of the venture so it can concentrate on other projects with larger scale. The 25% owner, Erdene Resource Development (TSX: ERD), is selling its share of the project to an affiliated company. “Xstrata Coal is working closely with its Joint Venture Partner, Erdene, and the Provincial Government to find a suitable company to take over its interest,” said the EIS. “Until this time, it remains business as usual and [Xstrata] remains committed to continuing its current activities including seeking regulatory approvals for the Project.”

Advanced Primary Minerals (TSX VENTURE: APD) said June 28 that it has reached agreement in principle for Erdene to sell all of its North American property interests, mainly Erdene’s interest in Donkin, to APM for share consideration from APM. Erdene currently owns approximately 60% of the issued and outstanding shares of APM.

The Harbour coal seam, the initially exploitable seam, and the Hub seam, are located about 3.5 kilometers offshore with the seam sub outcropping in the ocean floor. The Harbour seam dips about 10° in a northerly direction and ranges between 1.7 meters and 3.7 meters in thickness. The minimum mining thickness is 2 meters and the average seam thickness is 2.8 meters. Localized bands of high ash and sulfur coal have been identified near the margins of the Harbour seam. The ash content varies between 10% and 21% and the sulfur content is between 3.5% and 8.5%.

The Harbor seam sub outcrops approximately 2,060 meters offshore along the center line of the existing tunnels. Because the seam dips at about 10º in a northerly direction, it obtains a depth of approximately 205 meters below sea level where the seam is intersected by the two access tunnels. At this point, the ocean is around 24 meters in depth, and the unconsolidated ocean floor sediments are estimated to be about 5 meters in thickness. This leaves about 175 meters of rock or overburden protecting the coal seam. The seam continues to dip in a northerly direction and at approximately 3,900 meters from the intersection with the access tunnels reaches a depth of approximately 550 meters below sea level. At this point, the rock overburden is about 495 meters in thickness.

There are currently two onshore, surface portals to the existing two subsea tunnels which extend about 3.6 kilometers from the Donkin Peninsula to intersect with the Harbour seam. The previous owner of the mine (DEVCO) sealed the tunnels in 1992 and the tunnels were allowed to fill with water (from groundwater intrusion). Since taking ownership, the current partners have dewatered the tunnels. Dewatering continues on an ongoing basis to keep the tunnels from filling up again.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.