Sitting at his Springhill home overlooking the Rodney hills, Ralph Ross has years of information on the former mine workings beneath Springhill, maps compiled over the years of strata and data.
Geothermal expert Ralph Ross of Springhill is strong vocal opponent of a proposed mine in his hometown, saying if it goes through it will cripple Springhill’s mine-based geothermal system used by local businesses and the community centre.
To some it looks like a lot of squiggly lines but to Ross it's the future, a vision he developed when he pioneered mine-base geothermal more than 20-years ago, which he says in danger if a proposal to mine near Junction Road goes through.
“At the bottom of Junction Road is what they call the number 6 and number 7 [coal seams],” Ross said. “The angle they have to go down is a steep drop. The coal is almost standing on its end.”
What Ross calls on its end, representatives for Nova Construction called “close to the surface,” during the company’s presentation to Springhill Town Council on Tuesday. Ross says the real issue isn’t the coal itself, but the former coalmine working many have worked hard to preserve because of its geothermal potential. Businesses like Ropak and Surrett Battery use mine-based geothermal to offset heating and cooling costs. The workings they use may not be the same seams as those on Junction Road, but the mine workings of one seam connects to another and open pit mining, Ross said, is a threat to the system.
“The 6 and 7seams go up Junction Road to Main Street and turn towards the No. 2 and 4, and the water is the only thing holding everything up,” Ross said. “The size of it [the mines] is huge.”
While mine-based geothermal in Springhill is protected under the provincial mineral act, it has been duly noted by Nova Construction and Ross on different occasions their understanding of the act is that it protects the body of water in the mines and not the mines, themselves. It’s an uneasy definition, Ross said.
“The water is protected which means to me you can move the mud puddle but don’t touch the water,” Ross said. “Politically, they can do what they want.”
Ross has visited Nova Constructions strip mine operation in Stellarton and says it’s not something he wants to see in his community.
But perhaps the most upsetting thing for Ross is the fact he has to have a fight over the merits of strip mining over mine-based geothermal at all. As a world-travelled consultant for renewable energy, he’s seen first hand the world is moving to self-sustaining models while Springhill has been slow to capitalize on its potential.
“The [mine] water is renewable, the coal is not. It’s a one shot deal. You take the coal out, burn it, it’s gone… Has geothermal been fully developed? No. Is it going to be expanded in my lifetime? I doubt it because they don’t understand it. Other governments in other countries are actively developing resources but in Springhill, nothing.”
Inactivity, Ross says, is going to be the downfall of the town.
“We have an asset here. We have another asset, coal, and they’re asking us to give it away,” Ross said. “They want to pull the plug on the bathtub.”