Geothermal expert appalled Springhill, N.S. could strip mine

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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.”

Organizations: Springhill Town Council

Geographic location: Springhill, Junction Road, Nova Constructions Stellarton

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  • David Kunz
    December 04, 2013 - 13:00

    This news is appalling and frustrating clear across the country as I type from Calgary, AB and volunteer for Canada's geothermal energy association called CanGEA. CanGEA regularly touts Springhill as a world leader in geothermal energy as it was the first ever to tap into a flooded mine site for geo-exchange direct-use of the heat. http://www.cangea.ca/canadian-geothermal/ (see "Eastern and Central Canada" of the report body) The Springhill mine geo-exchange model is an application that is actively being modeled/studied in Ireland, UK and other parts of Europe for similar communities that are proximal to old abandoned mine sites. In fact, CanGEA is similarly touting the Springhill application as a model for the rest of Canada to emulate and currently seeking government funding to spread the word / educate public and elected officials how valuable the geothermal resource can be. For example, Ropack Can-Am saved over 600mWh (heat) = $45,000 in the first year of its geothermal operations in 1989 and payback of the system was less than 3 years. Now imagine if the entire community tapped into the geothermal for residential/industrial heat instead of furnace oil or natural gas? How much would it save and how might this attract other business to its community instead of a one-trick coal mining pony? Instead of jeopardizing this incredible resource now that it has begun to receive international acclaim, Nova Scotia should instead be exploring how it may apply the same technology throughout the rest of the province whereby the Geological Survey of Canada: GSC report on Geothermal Resource potential 2012 (pg 57) devotes an entire section 4.3 to the subject of abandoned mines with Springhill as the poster-child of the application. This report is available for download at the Natural Resources Canada website: ftp://ftp2.cits.rncan.gc.ca/pub/geott/ess_pubs/291/291488/of_6914.pdf The report further explores the mine resources of Canada at large (section 6, Pg 87) and detailed evaluation of Springhill mine (pg93) . Page 111 indicates that 59 base metal mine sites and 213 coal mines were determined to be prime targets for geothermal potential in NS, particularly since these mines are often within 1-2km proximity to towns or cities for direct heat-use applications. "Halifax itself contains several small mines and represents one of the largest areas of interest in the province." (pg. 112) Born and raised in Halifax and educated as a Mining Engineer at TUNS, I am proud of Nova Scotia as a pioneer of this geothermal technology that the rest of Canada and the world is currently studying. To risk its application and technology expansion throughout NS for the sake of a short-term trade off would be a detriment to Springhill and the province at large. Instead, the mining engineering department at Dalhousie University would serve as an incredible asset to further evaluate and explore geothermal resource applications of abandoned mine sites with funding from the NS or federal government. Furthermore, the development of a geothermal energy program within the DalTech mining department would serve as the first in Canada. CanGEA would be most interested to help spread the word and educate how similar applications may similarly benefit other communities and actually result in net benefit greater than the project that is currently proposed. For further comments or information or discussion in this matter, please contact David Kunz at CanGEA or visit the website www.cangea.ca Best regards, David Kunz