Proposal before environment department sparks expert’s concern
SPRINGHILL — Coal is becoming the talk of the town again in the Springhill area.The Springhill Coal Mines Ltd., a subsidiary of Nova Construction, has applied to the provincial Department of Natural Resources to excavate three test pits with the goal of examining the coal seams for a potential open-pit mining operation.
“I don’t have a real problem with Nova Construction coming in to do some surface mining, providing that all environmental conditions are met,” Springhill Mayor Maxwell Snow said last week.
But at least one Springhill resident does have a real problem with it. “If the equipment does come into town to take out the coal pillars of Springhill, they will have to go over my body to do it,” said Ralph Ross, the 64-year-old owner of Ross Refrigeration in town, and an authority on the geothermal operations and capabilities that exist there because of the abandoned underground mine tunnels.
This week, Natural Resources Minister Zach Churchill signed a special lease to give the town final provincial approval to open Nova Scotia’s first municipal geothermal program.
“With this special lease, we can exploit a vast renewable and sustainable green energy source for the Town of Springhill and the Municipality of the County of Cumberland,” Snow said after the lease announcement. “This program will help to develop Springhill’s geothermal resource and possibly lead to creating a utility that will help all of Nova Scotia, the economy and the environment.”
Ross’s concern is that a strip-mining operation in and around the town could destroy the geothermal potential. Plastic container manufacturer Ropak Packaging, Surrette Battery and a number of town-owned operations, including the arena, use mine-based geothermal to offset heating and cooling costs.
Ross describes a perfect geothermal scenario created by the old mines in Springhill, a room-and-pillar mining system in which a number of interconnected tunnels are protected by a seam of untouched coal near the surface. Billions of litres of water run through the old tunnels, and water temperature at the deepest part of the mine is about 38 C, falling to about 20 C when it reaches the surface, Ross said.
Industrial and town wells have been dug to extract the warm water and send it back down after it has been used and cooled.
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