Alberta’s energy regulator is examining practices at a coal mine in the province after three “instabilities” in its rock walls, including one weeks ago that partially buried a large piece of heavy equipment and its operator.
“They buried the excavator with the operator inside,” said Shayne Jessome, who works at the CST Canada coal mine in Grande Cache, about 430 kilometers northwest of Edmonton by road.
“The guy almost got killed.”
The rocks were large enough to damage the excavator’s roll cage, Jessome said.
Alberta Energy Regulator spokesperson Teresa Broughton said the company reported three “instabilities” in June, September and October. The first was reported to the regulator on July 5 and the others on October 31.
“We are evaluating conditions at the site and mitigation activities [CST] related to these rock wall instabilities,” he said.
The three events occurred after a previous one in the fall of 2022.
Kyler Leduke was working the night shift, driving a large Cat D-10 dozer deep in the mine’s open pit, pushing coal toward a shovel.
“Something caught my attention. I looked and saw all this rock falling. I thought, ‘This is going to hurt.’ I curled up and covered my face.”
It turned out well. The floor of the dozer’s cab was ankle-deep in rock debris, but Leduke escaped unharmed.
“I was surprised I didn’t have to change my ginch,” he said.
A photo provided to The Canadian Press of the bulldozer shows it buried up to the roof of its cab by refrigerator-sized rocks in what appears to be a mine shaft.
“Inspectors have conducted site inspections and are working with CST to understand what caused these events and review any necessary corrective actions,” Broughton said in an email.
“If we find that a business is not following the rules or requirements, we will take action by applying one or more compliance and enforcement tools.”
An official with the United Mineworkers Union said Alberta Occupational Health Services has opened at least one file on the various events, although the agency declined to comment.
Messages seeking comment at the mining company’s offices in Calgary and abroad were not returned.
Jessome, who until recently was mine safety president for the union, said he is concerned about how seriously management views mine safety.
Management rejected his request to conduct monthly site visits to look for potential problems, he said. Requests for tankers were denied even when the dust in the mine was so thick that drivers could not see.
When workers stopped working after Leduke’s experience, Jessome said management called union officials to complain instead of addressing their concerns.
“Things are starting to fall apart”
Jessome described what it feels like in the mine when instability occurs in a mine wall.
“Sometimes you can see things start to fall apart a little bit. When it’s unstable, all of a sudden it just falls. It just falls, everything falls.
“When that happens, you have to hope that there’s no one working there.”
Jessome said the mine relies on a radar detection system to warn of instability. But she said the people who analyze that data are remote from the site and don’t give adequate warning.
The energy regulator normally publishes a description of the incidents it is investigating. Broughton said none were issued for the mine due to the recent instabilities because “these events do not meet the requirements [regulator’s] criteria for publishing.”
The only one of those criteria that applies to hard rock mining concerns wastewater emissions.
CST is also under investigation by the regulator for two separate incidents in December 2022 and March of this year in which more than 1,200 cubic meters of wastewater contaminated with coal fines was dumped into the Smoky River.
“CST Coal has submitted an emissions prevention plan to the [regulator] to prevent this event from occurring again in the future, and is actively implementing emissions prevention measures identified in the plan, as well as ongoing and ongoing monitoring of the Smoky River,” says the most recent environmental, social and governance report from the company.
The company has since reported a third release of wastewater into the Smoky River after heavy rains flooded the site in June. The volume of that release is unknown.
“In the last three years [including 2023]”No days lost due to work-related injuries were reported and there were no work-related deaths,” the company report said.
“He [company] “He was not aware of any failure to comply with relevant laws and regulations that would have a significant impact on him in relation to the provision of a safe working environment and the protection of employees.”
CST Coal is owned by CST Group, headquartered in Hong Kong and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. He bought the mine in 2017 from the receiver after the previous owner, Grande Cache Coal, went bankrupt.
The mine is both open pit and underground, company documents say. It mines steel coal, most of which is exported to Japan, Korea and China.
CST employs about 300 people in Canada.
Its leases cover nearly 30,000 hectares in the northwestern foothills of Alberta.