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Op-ed: Reporting or cheerleading - Donkin coal and the Nova Scotia media

by Robert Devet

Donkin headlands. The Donkin coal mine may reopen, but at what price? Don't expect Nova Scotia media to answer that question.
Donkin headlands. The Donkin coal mine may reopen, but at what price? Don't expect Nova Scotia media to answer that question.

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – The Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton may well reopen later this year, and that may eventually bring up to 120 new jobs to a region that needs jobs desperately. No wonder local people and politicians are excited.

But should journalists simply join in the excitement?

Earlier this year Kameron Collieries, a subsidiary of coal mining giant the Cline Group LLC and the Donkin coal mine's new owner, announced that it is seriously considering reopening the mine.

News media have been a bit one-sided in their reporting ever since.

For one thing, except for a single union representative, the experts interviewed all applaud.

“It certainly bodes well for the commercial operation of the mine to have Chris Cline involved, because he’s known as being such a competent operator and an efficient operator,” Joe Aldina, an energy analyst who works for the mining industry tells the Chronicle Herald.

What local media, including the Chronicle Herald and the CBC on line, don't report are Cline's well-documented efforts to bribe state-level politicians, including the Illinois mine safety regulator.

Nor do we hear about the new Donkin mine owner's less than stellar safety record in the US.

Politicians certainly are not going there.

"It's very safe, very protective, and very mechanical," Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Geoff MacLellan assures a CBC reporter. “I can vouch for that,” MacLellan adds for emphasis, and the CBC reporter leaves the assertion unchallenged.

Yet in 2008 current Kameron Collieries executive Ed Griffith was part of the executive team running the West Virginia based Broad Run Mine, another Cline subsidiary. At that time Broad Run Mine was assessed $291,600 in fines. Coal dust accumulations were the issue.

Coal dust accumulation, by the way, was also what caused Nova Scotia's Westray mine disaster.

“The (coal dust) accumulations were packed so tight around the turning rollers that the rollers and bearing housings were too hot to touch. This could have led to a mine fire,” a US government's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) press release states.

And it wasn't the first time either. MSHA had issued three orders for violations of the same standard during the previous six months.

More recently two miners died in separate incidents at one of the Cline mines in Illinois over the last two years. The online database maintained by the MSHA shows that the company was fined $175,000 for safety violations related to the two fatalities. The company is appealing that verdict.

Also unreported in Nova Scotia's mainstream media is that The Cline Group's environmental record in the US is not without controversy. Aquifer pollution, land drops, and environmentally destructive mining practices are the most common complaints.

The name that keeps popping up in that context is Matt Fifield, until recently the managing director of Kameron Collieries. The man even made it into the New York Times.

Maybe the environmental issues are all all about tree huggers and NIMBYs who have no reason to complain. Maybe the occurrence of two fatalities in one mine in less than two years is just bad luck. Maybe safety violations are just part and parcel of how the mining industry operates.

Maybe the prospect of jobs outweighs the safety risks.

But Cape Bretoners are not getting the information necessary to make up their own minds. And that's not good.

 

See also: Donkin coal mine may reopen

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 

 


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