MINEXCHANGE 2024 SME Annual Conference and Expo kicks off with lively keynote session

William Gleason

February 26, 2024

The MINEXCHANGE 2024 SME Annual Conference & Expo kicked off in Phoenix, AZ on Monday, Feb 26 with a keynote session titled Energy is Everything.

Moderated by Alex Epstien, author of the book “Fossil Future: Why global human flourishing requires more oil, coal and natural gas – not less,” the thought-provoking session covered many issues of the global energy sector including the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the stability of the power grid and the reliability of energy sources. Epstien opened the session with a talk in which he argued that the rapid change from fossil fuels to renewable energy is both dangerous and doomed to failure at the current pace. Among his points, Epstein argues that human flourishing should be the guiding principle of energy and environmental progress.

His presentation was followed by a panel discussion with Bradford Crabtree, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), Jimmy Brock, CEO, CONSOL Energy and Jimmy Staton, President & CEO, Santee Cooper that at times got a bit heated between Epstein and Crabtree.

One issue of disagreement was if the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is a realistic goal or even if it is a good goal.

“It’s not a policy, it’s a metric and one that we can use to hold ourselves accountable,” said Crabtree. “It will be very challenging to get there by 2050 but I would also suggest that challenging the goal of net zero by 2050 by contending with the climate science behind it has not served (the mining) industry well. I understand the pride with which people have to their work and the threats they feel to their livelihoods but we have lost two generations of young people in the world by not embracing this challenge and being optimistic about the technology. I don’t disagree with any of the concerns that my colleagues on the panel have raised about reliability of renewable power but basically rejecting a net-zero framework means we are not willing to tackle the problem. I think you can be in favor of energy abundance and be optimistic about technology and still get to net zero.”

Epstien countered by saying, “The key is net zero by 2050 is based on horrifically bad thinking that is based is fossil fuel benefit denial, climate mastery benefit denial and the distortion of climate science. It’s not about denying any negative climate impact it’s about embracing science and economic reality. That is message that can win people over.”

During the discussion the issue of the national power grid and the demands that will be placed on it through rapid growth in electrification were discussed.

When speaking about the efforts to support the national grid Crabtree said “For the first time in U.S. history we have the most comprehensive framework of federal funding, financing and incentives to help industry deploy energy projects. As a result of that we have 200 publicly announced carbon management projects, 25 of which are in the power sector.”

Staton said he is very concerned about the energy grid in the near term primarily because of expanding growth in data centers, reindustrialization and the electrification of the transport market. “That is creating incredible growth. We expect to see 40 percent growth by the end of the decade so it is coming and it’s scary,” Stanton said. “In addition to that, permitting of any energy project is challenging.”

Brock said his concerns about the grid include the speed of the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources as well as the construction of transmission infrastructure.

“We are losing some reliability because we are replacing dispatchable energy sources before another replacement energy source is ready,” said Brock. “I believe in the future there could be an all of the above approach. And while everyone wants to think about 10 years out I think we need to focus on the present. If we want to have electricity on demand we have to be concerned and we have to make sure that the current dispatchable generation is replaced by equal power generation,” said Brock.

Later in the panel discussion, Crabtree noted that there is need for permitting reform in the United States and that the United States needs to stabilize its critical minerals development. He also said the United States should be looking to alternate sources for minerals such as from coal waste and tailings.


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