Mining Around The World: An Industry in Turmoil

It has been a whirlwind year. Having served as President of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration in 2015, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to many of our local SME section meetings over the past year as well as several international meetings. SME helped form the Global Minerals Professional Alliance (GMPA) which includes AUSIMM (Australia), SAIMM (South Africa), CIM (Canada), IMPP (Peru), and hopefully soon IOM3 in Great Britain. GMPA held meetings in Hong Kong, Canada and the US during my term that I had the distinct opportunity to attend.  I look forward to continuing to attend SME and GMPA meetings in a member capacity as I travel around the world for my “day job” as President and CEO of ECSI, LLC, a consulting engineering firm that offers expertise across a multitude of service areas including mining.  In light of the downturn in the mining industry, I am committed to aiding SME in leading an effort to devise a strategy to improve the public perception of mining.

The University of Kentucky Mining Engineering Foundation has granted me the honor of speaking at their Distinguished Lecture on April 21, 2016 at the Lexington, Kentucky Marriott where I will be discussing my observations on Mining around the World in 2015.  It was a tumultuous year in mining – from the hollows of Appalachia to South America, Asia and Africa.  Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs as commodity prices plummeted and regulatory influences affected the ability of miners to turn profits.  Worldwide protests occurred against new mining proposals and the public perception of mining is at an all-time low.  Mining supplies virtually everything that modern society requires, from the raw materials for cell phones to solar cells, the buildings we live in, the roads we drive on and the fertilizers to grow food to feed the world.

As a native of Appalachia, much of my career has been spent in the region. The past year has witnessed a flood of new proposed rules and regulations that will significantly curtail domestic energy production and make it more difficult for the United States to be competitive in the global marketplace.  Regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants, better known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), are causing a mass decommissioning.  The Office of Surface Mining (OSM) has published a proposed Stream Protection Rule (SPR) to limit environmental impacts to streams from coal mining. These rules are quite voluminous—in excess of 5,000 pages—and will certainly further diminish the nation’s use of coal. The SPR has been demonstrated to have been based on faulty assumptions and questionable science.

These regulations will have an impact on an industry that is already reeling from a historic downturn. We all know the various causes of the downturn: the very real “War on Coal”; other environmental regulations from the federal government; the slowdown in the global economy; competition from cheaper natural gas; growing competition from subsidized renewable sources. In a nutshell, the energy landscape is changing dramatically, and these regulations only serve to accelerate those changes.

Are these rules another nail in coal’s coffin? They appear to belie a stated “all of the above” policy for the nation’s energy portfolio. Given the Clean Power Plan is dramatically different in its final form compared to the proposed rule, and given the Stream Protection Rule is new to all of us, there will be quite a bit of scrutiny in the upcoming weeks and months regarding the impact of these regulations, not to mention years of litigation surrounding both of these regulatory actions.  Coal and the rest of the mining industry will be facing some big unknowns in the next few years.

Almost every mining sector is down economically with significant layoffs, but the coal industry has been hit extremely hard and most likely will not completely recover.  Other mining sectors have to rebound in time as we all know the importance of mining to society.  Due to this downturn, ECSI has diversified its service offerings.  While we will continue to be a leader in engineering and environmental services for all mining sectors, we are now expanding our focus to civil engineering, surveying, environmental, and litigation support services for the public, private and energy sectors.

Largely due to the importance of keeping mining and development in Appalachia a focal point of our business, the ECSI local partners were afforded the opportunity to repurchase stock owned by Ecology & Environment, Inc. in 2015 and establish itself once again as an employee-owned company. In light of this change and those within the industry, I believe this year is a new beginning for ECSI. With our dedicated staff and management team, I am excited to extend our reputation for excellent client service and satisfaction to our new service areas while expanding our geographic reach.

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