MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Consol Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brett Harvey is confident about the future of the energy industry, particularly in West Virginia. Harvey was a guest speaker at the WVU College of Business and Economics’ Distinguished Speaker Series Wednesday.
At a packed house of students at the Erickson Alumni Center, he spoke of the history of Consol and where he sees the company headed in the future. Harvey said he’s confident in the future of the energy industry partly because of the students he saw there and the questions they asked him.
“To me it’s always overwhelming to see all these smart young people. I feel good about the next generation.”
Harvey explained that Consol’s recent sale of 5 coal mines in West Virginia has caused some concern.
“There’s apprehension when big companies change, especially as big as they are like Consol in West Virginia, and I could see they (the students) understood where Consol’s headed and where it’s been.”
But, he said, the sale was part of a long term strategy to keep Consol growing and profitable.
“We took the part of our company that wasn’t growing, which was the sale, and it was valuable to the buyer, and we were going to take the proceeds and grow the gas business as well as some exports on the coal side from other mines that we have,” Harvey said. “If you look at what we’ve done, we’ve really shifted focus on the gas to grow 30 percent, and that’s the quickest rate of return for our shareholders.”
Harvey noted that the sale of the mines does not in any way jeopardize the workers.
“The mines are well capitalized, I think they’re in very good shape. In fact, I think the new owner will be surprised at how smart and effective they are.”
Consol, as a company, sees the future of the energy industry shifting towards natural gas because of new technologies, such as fracking, that enables it to more effectively extract more natural gas. The abundance of natural gas located in West Virginia combined with the new technologies means the state’s natural gas industry will continue to grow, Harvey said.
“I think it’s going to be exponential for West Virginia. It started all up in Pennsylvania and it’s working its way down. As the development moves to the south, West Virginia’s going to be a big benefactor of the expansion.”
Harvey believes that because of their focus on natural gas, Consol will continue to grow and West Virginia will grow along with it.
“We’re going to grow, compounded, 30 percent over the next four or five years, and probably 70 percent of that’s West Virginia.”
And, the company is putting it’s money where its mouth is by investing a lot of money in the state.
“Fourteen billion dollars just in West Virginia over the next ten years. That’s a big number,” said Harvey.
He said the energy industry tends to shift emphasis on one form of energy or another depending on technologies and market conditions and, right now, natural gas is on the incline.
“Natural gas will surge, but it’s all West Virginia. That’s a very healthy thing for West Virginia.”
Harvey also had some advice for students looking for guidance in the career choices.
“I would say, point my career toward where the world’s growing, and I would point it towards natural gas, the new technologies, and I would also point it towards… I’m a big believer in, if you’re going to go do a job, be the best at it.”
Harvey also had some opinions regarding the current conflicts between government regulations and the coal industry.
“You can only push back on your base fuels so far until the economics change so radically that it starts to hurt your society,” he said. “Then you’ll push back towards it. If you go back to just at the turn of this century, coal was on the outs with an administration. Then it shifted back, so you’ll see it kind of go back and forth.”
And, he said, the industry itself is working to solve pollution problems.
“You change the way you use it, you change how it’s used. You change the way it’s used environmentally, and use technologies from great universities like this to change things.”
Overall, Harvey believes that the future of the coal industry in West Virginia looks good.
“I have a lot of faith that the 30 percent of the world’s coal inside the United States is going to be used for the benefit of the citizens over time, especially in West Virginia.”
And the history of the coal industry supports that belief.
“Since, the mid-90s, we’ve tripled the use of coal and we’ve taken 70 percent of the pollutions out. CO2 is the one that everybody’s working on now, so your going to clean coal technology,” Harvey said. “A lot of science is being put in and that will be solved, just like everything else is.”