Focusing on the future

“FOR the first time in more than a generation, our nation is keenly focused on its energy needs,” said PinnOak Resources president Benjamin Statler, opening the final day of the Pittsburgh Coal Mining Institute of America and Society for Mining Metallurgy and Exploration joint meeting on Friday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Donna Schmidt

Statler stressed that during these boom times, producing efficiently while keeping the workforce safe must be addressed – because “competitive cost, not price, is our objective”

With coal a hot discussion with regard to alternative fuel sources at a time when energy issues are at the forefront of business topics in the United States, he pointed out that “the state of the entire energy industry, and its effect on us in the coal industry, is suddenly in tremendous flux”

“What we do now to ensure our own success in today’s boom times is critical not only to our long-term health, but to the health of our energy supply,” Statler said.

Centering attention on the upturn of the industry while not preparing for the long term could leave the US industry unprepared down the road.

He said a recent “central change in the public’s attitude” in the US was helping to give coal its time to shine, but noted that – like other resources – coal was not limitless.

The industry’s challenge long-term, he said, was extracting coal as efficiently and effectively as possible.

In addition, coal prices are seeing significant spikes since 2003 while “coal is today a more attractive energy source for producing electric power than it has been in years” because of its cost versus other fuels.

Despite skills shortages, an aging workforce, rising costs, reserve levels and other obstacles faced by the coal industry, Statler noted that good safety practices and a the integrity of business practices must remain intact for the industry to keep delivering to meet needs.

Looking into the future, the ability to mine more challenging coal seams was one factor Statler highlighted as an issue for which the industry needs to find effective solutions.

“The old adage ‘today’s worst coal reserve is tomorrow’s best coal reserve’ has never been truer,” he said.

“Seams are becoming thinner and we’re encountering more challenging geology. We must find ways to safely and efficiently extract coal from these reserves without incurring unreasonable cost.”

Mining economic value, Statler noted, must be addressed in the business plans of all operations and the industry must focus on moving forward and making the most of everything, even when it didn’t have the best of everything.

“To the extent we are enjoying better realisations today, it only allows us to invest in and renew our operations, and store a small reserve for a possible cool-down in realisations,” he said.

“If we take our focus off cost, our tenure will be short-lived.”

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