Thousands of mining professionals gathered at the annual conference of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) in Phoenix, during February. The theme of the keynote session was Energy is Everything. The host was Alex Epstein, an energy expert that is challenging the anti-carbon movement and the green energy transition. In his latest book, Fossil Future, he says that humanity will need more fossil fuels in the future, not less, and that “net zero by 2050 is not attainable and, if it were, it would not be a world we would want to live in.” His reasoning is that electricity would be unaffordable for most people at that point and the green transition will wreck economies and the environment.

After his presentation, he moderated a panel discussion, debating the energy transition and grid reliability. The panelists included: Bradford Crabtree, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, Jimmy Brock, CEO, CONSOL Energy and Jimmy Staton, president and CEO, Santee Cooper.

Crabtree believes that the green transition must take place and he cited several carbon sequestration projects that are underway to help meet the 2050 net-zero goals. Epstein cut him off saying that these projects are moving too slow and that they were not scalable. When Crabtree, who was the only panelist fully supporting net-zero by 2050, stood up for himself and his department, he received a small round of applause from the audience.

Arizona is copper country and many metal miners have embraced the green transition and net-zero by 2050 goal. So, it was not surprising that, at times, the discussion became contentious. SME’s Coal Division is large and vocal and they were present as well.

CONSOL Energy recently introduced the Not So Fast campaign (see News, p. 5) and Brock explained how the company is advocating for a pragmatic approach to the energy transition. The grassroots campaign is aimed at educating people about the importance of coal, energy costs and grid reliability.

Santee Cooper is a utility that provides energy for South Carolina and Staton really drove the point home. He told the audience that industrial demand for electricity is growing in his service area. He said they need to provide affordable base load power now or those installations will move to another state. He said Santee Cooper had coal plants scheduled for closure, but the utility has postponed those plans to meet its growing demand. He discussed how permitting issues for pipelines and transmission lines are limiting options for power producers. He also said he has a few years before retirement and that he was uncomfortable setting 2050 goals for his company, knowing that another CEO would have to find a way to meet them.

This column first appeared in March 2024 Engineering & Mining Journal (E&MJ).