Global issues discussed at National Western Mining Conference

April 16, 2014

During the 116th National Western Mining Conference & Exhibition at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO the host city was called the world’s mining capital, and it was evident to see why when presentations about workforce trends and the coal industry were given.

In the grand scheme of things, mining, it would seem, plays a small role in the larger employment picture of the United States. After all, the industry directly employes about 340,000 people in the United States which works out to be about one quarter of one percent of the entire workforce. However, this small group runs an industry that contributes about $16 trillion to the U.S. economy. The problem is, this is a group that is projected to get much smaller in the coming years.

On April 16, SME Executive Director Dave Kanagy spoke about the impending workforce crisis at the Colorado Mining Association/Mining and Metallurgical Society of America Breakfast. SME recently released and update of its technical briefing paper, “Workforce Trends in the U.S. Mining Industry.” 

The study found that the population in the United States is expected to increase by more than 400 million by the year 2050, but the mining workforce is expected to decrease by 128,000 by 2019 and by 221,000 by 2029.

“The workforce shortage is the single greatest challenge that faces the mining industry today,” said Kanagy. “By 2029, more than half the current workforce will be retired, and the number of qualified science and engineering professionals graduating from U.S. schools will not meet the capacity required to fill these vacancies.”

Kanagy noted that the crisis is not dictated by the United States alone. Increasing populations around the world and the rapid growth of emerging nations is increasing demand for all commodities, and with that demand comes international competition for qualified people. He also noted that as the industry strives to replace retiring members of the workforce and works to meet demands, there are sure to be additional challenges, such as maintaining a safe environment.

Global influence on coal

Speaking of reducing carbon emissions, Deck Slone of Arch coal said, “We cannot simply shrink our way to a low carbon future.”

Slone told the audience that reducing emissions from coal-fired energy plants in the United States is only part of the solution because of the rest of the world continues to turn to coal for energy needs even as the United States is turning away.

Between 2002 and 2012, there was a 55 percent increase in coal consumption on a global level.

“We expect that growth to continue, and not just from China and India,” Slone said.

New coal plants are being built in Africa, Europe, South America and Japan.

The demand from emerging markets has led U.S. coal producers to look toward the export market that, according to Slone, is showing excellent growth potential, with 41 export terminals being built on the west coast and 86 on the nation’s east coast.

Domestically, Slone said, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects coal to supply less than 40 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2020, compared to 2008, when it supplied more than 50 percent.

Natural gas is partly to blame, as is a tough regulatory environment.

The National Western Mining Conference & Exhibition concludes on Thursday, April 17.



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