Rise And Fall Of The Nova Scotia Coal Industry

Rise And Fall Of The Nova Scotia Coal Industry Introduction Coal mining has always been an important component of Nova Scotia’s economy, landscape and culture. Together with cod fishing it was the primary export and employer for the regions population. With both industries now failing, the poor economic climate will no doubt have an effect on the population. This paper attempts to examine the economic conditions, market forces, and political maneuvering that gave rise to the coal industry in Nova Scotia as well as those contributing to its demise. Coal Formation The first stage in the formation of the fossil fuel we know as coal is large accumulations of organic matter, an anoxic environment, and large amounts of time.

Dead plant material readily decomposes when exposed to the oxygen rich atmosphere so an oxygen poor environment is required. Common environments meeting these conditions were swamps of the Carboniferous period. As plant life died in these swamps the dead organic matter sank into the oxygen deficient stagnant water where it was partially decomposed by bacteria.

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This partial decomposition lead to an accumulation of a spongy brown material known as peat. Peat itself can serve as an energy source albeit not a very efficient one.The next stage in coal development involves the burying of the peat accumulations by layers of sediment (Montgomery, 1990). As the peat is buried more and more pressure and heat is exerted upon the peat squeezing out the water and various gasses (volatiles) and increasing the carbon content (Lutgens, Tarbuck, 1993).

With shallow burial one gets lignite, a soft brown coal. Then as more and more sediment is loaded on top of the deposit more water and volatiles are pressed out increasing the carbon content changing lignite to bituminous coal. With even more pressure and heat, like the kind associated with mountain building one gets anthracitic coal.So generally the more pressure and heat that the peat experiences the higher the concentration of carbon and the more efficient the fuel. However, too much heat and pressure may result in the changing of coal to graphite (See Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Graph illustrating the relationship between carbon concentration and fuel efficiency.Note the decline in heating value as more volatiles are removed Source: Montgomery 1990. The coal present in eastern Canada was formed in the Fundy Basin of deposition. This basin developed after the Acadian orogeny . After these mountains were formed they immediately underwent physical and chemical weathering, and sediment washed down their slopes to be deposited in the Fundy Basin.

In the Fundy basin sediment was further deposited in various sub basins compacting the peat layers present and forming the coalfields of Nova Scotia.The Riversdale fields were the first to be covered by sediment and therefore the oldest followed by the Cumberland deposits and the youngest and most extensive deposits, the Pictou group (Calder, 1985). Rise of the Coal Industry The first historical mention of coal in Nova Scotia was by then Governor Nicholas Denys in dispatches to France in 1673.

In his dispatches he wrote that there was a mountain of good coal four leagues up the Spanish River near Cow Bay, Cape Breton Island. The first mining operation to be set up was by the French Acadians to supply the fortress of Louisbourg with coal for heating and various industrial uses. Mining in Pictou county started in 1807 after the discovery of coal there in 1798 by Reverend James MacGregor.

Other entrepreneurs quickly realized the potential for profits and several sank small mines into the area (Calder, 1985).The age of the private locally operated mines would soon come to an end however. The King of England at the time was George the IV whose brother was Frederick, the Duke of York. Through his high living and gambling Frederick had incurred a substantial debt.

In August of 1826 the King granted upon Frederick a sixty-year lease on all of the mineral rights of the province of Nova Scotia to assist him in paying his debt. Frederick then transferred the right to the General Mining association in 1827. Many thought it unfair that the GMA have a monopoly on all the coal mining in Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Legislature had the monopoly revoked in 1858 (Ryan, 1992).Prior to the 1890’s there were many unproductive Mines in Cape Breton. One Mr. A.

C. Ross is generally credited with realizing that a rail line from the rich Sydney coalfield to the ice free port at Lousisbourg would allow year round coal extraction rather than have to lay off workers in the winter, as ships could not enter Sydney Harbour. Together with Boston businessman H.W. Whitney, owner of New England Gas and Coke Company, which needed large amounts of bituminous coal, they presented a plan for the amalgamation of all the coal companies to the premier of Nova Scotia.With this amalgamation and a large input of foreign investment for modern equipment and transportation systems the output of coal could be greatly increased thereby increasing royalties to the province. Leases were granted in 1894 to the new Dominion Coal Company for ninety-nine years renewable for another twenty upon expiration.

Much of the increased output of the mines was sold to the New England Gas and Coke Company facilitated by the construction of new piers in Boston and improved loading facilities at Sydney and Louisbourg. The output of coal increased so rapidly that it was soon realized that another major industry could be supported. Locally limestone was available and an ample supply of iron ore on nearby Belle Island made the construction of a steel mill in Sydney a logical decision. The construction of the mills created a great need for labourers, which greatly increased provincial in-migration.The migrants mostly came from other parts of Canada and the United States. Also many Nova Scotian natives, who had left the province to seek work elsewhere during hard times, were happy to come home to fill jobs.

The first furnace was fired on December 19, 1900. These were the boom times when coal was in high demand by industry and the proximity of iron ore, limestone, coal, and the availability of low cost water transportation made Nova Scotia steel very competitive in the world market (Mellor, 1983). Decline of the Coal Industry Coal use began its decline in the industrial sector, its biggest consumer, shortly after WWII (Alm, Curham, 1984). Coal accounted for more than half of Canadian energy consumption from 1890 to shortly after WW II. On Cape Breton peak coal production was reached in the mid 1940’s but the post war era brought a steady decline. By 1960 only half of the original mines in the province were still operating (Ryan, 1992).There were many reasons for the decline of the coal mining industry in Nova Scotia and chief among them was competition.

The coal industry is a business and like all businesses if it becomes uncompetitive for whatever reason it will die. One of the reasons coal became uncompetitive in the industrial fuels market is its bulky nature. Solid coal has never been and will never be as efficient as oil or gas to handle or transport. In 16th century England the price of coal doubled at a point eight kilometers from the pit head due to transport costs (Langton, 1979). Oil initially replaced coal as the fuel of choice for industries, then gas as these fuels were cheaper, did not require expensive rail and/or barge infrastructures, and they stored easily (Alm, Curham 1984).Prior to the 1950’s oil and natural gas were too expensive to use outside of the local production area but during that decade the government approved the construction of 4 pipelines to be built to transport Alberta and British Columbia gas and oil to Central Canada and Vancouver (McDougall, 1982). These pipelines drastically cut the cost of transport (See Fig. 2) and allowed oil and gas to be competitive nationwide.

With the pipelines completed oil production increased from 30 million barrels in 1950 to 190 million barrels in 1960, and gas production increased from 70 million cubic feet in 1960 Fuel and transport method Transport Costs (Cents per 1.6 km per 1 short ton of coal equivalent) Electricity via high tension wire 316.5 – 395.5 Bituminous coal by rail 70 – 80 Bituminous coal by water 25 – 30 Natural gas via 34 inch diameter pipe 28- 40.8 Petroleum via 30 inch diameter pipe 9.0-13.

5 Fig.2 Comparative costs of energy transport in 1957. From McDougall, 1982 to 500 million cubic feet in 1970. Increased production drove down the prices for these new fuels and their use increased rapidly (See Fig. 3)..

Energy Source 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 Petroleum 29.8 45.7 48.6 49.4 48.1 Natural Gas 2.

5 3.9 9.0 13.1 16.5 Coal and Coke 47.6 27.7 14.7 24.

5 24.6 Hydroelectricity 20.1 22.7 27.

7 24.5 24.6 Total BTU’s (1012) 2493 3188 3671 4814 6328 Fig. 3 Sources of Canadian Primary Energy Consumption (percentages) 1950-1970. From Doern, Toner 1985).

Another factor instrumental in the decline of coal use is its harmful environmental effects and their associated costs in today’s more environmentally conscious society.Sulfur is a major environmental liability problem for coal, and the sulfur content of coal can be as much as 3 per cent. When this sulfur is burned along with the coal it produces …