Reclaimed Stellarton mine site continues to provide new economic opportunities
Traditional coal mining has taken place in Pictou County, Nova Scotia for over 400 years. The pit walls of Stellarton Mine still show remnants of abandoned tunnels from the underground mining that took place years ago. Today, the hazardous land left behind from centuries of explosives and fires that plagued the methane-rich coalfields is finally being restored. Step one is its reuse as a surface mine; step two will see the land used for future infrastructure and developments.
Pioneer Coal Ltd., a Nova Scotia mining company, has been working the site since 1996 and is expected to finish its surface mining operations there some time this year. The Town of Stellarton has plans for future developments on the restored land—some of which have already come to fruition.
Danny MacGillivray, the mayor of Stellarton, says some already- reclaimed land has been used for the town’s water tower. In a process that is essentially reverse mining, materials that had been dug up were pushed back into the pit to restore the land to its approximate original contour (AOC). The new-old topography created the ideal location for a water tower. “It ended up being the highest point in town, which wasn’t there before, so that allowed us to gravity feed water to all of our residents. We used to have to pump it,” said MacGillivray.
Still, the process of restoration can be environmentally intrusive and have major impacts on local environments. There is potential for aquatic, terrestrial and socio-economic impacts. According to Mayor MacGillivray, Pioneer Coal recognizes this and has instituted measures to protect the environment and avoid risks with water quality issues and potential cave-ins, among other things.
The past 20 years of surface mining were also conducted with a view to land restoration and reclamation.
Using unique highwall mining technology (proudly designed and constructed in Nova Scotia), Pioneer Coal has been able to mine at steeper dips than other highwall miners around the world. The company says this technology is able to enhance resource recovery. The environmental benefits of the low sulphur content in the coal being mined will aid in meeting the provincial cap on sulphur emissions.
Though Stellarton is still in the early stages of restoration, the mayor hopes it will help rejuvenate the area and bring economic growth to the future of the town. Continuous improvement will be a critical part of that process—one that involves constant innovation as well as an ongoing commitment to utilizing better methods to reclaim mined lands.