Randall M. Albert
Mining and Minerals Engineering
Class of 1980, BS
Randy Albert grew up in coal country, in Bluefield, West Virginia — a major metallurgical coal mining region. With the coal mines of the Appalachian Mountains surrounding him, obtaining a mining engineering degree seemed like logical thing to do and the best prospect for a good paying job and a secure career path.
His instincts were correct. Albert spent 34 years with CONSOL Energy, and played a key role in the development of the coal giant’s coalbed methane gas business.
“Through Randy’s leadership, he worked to develop technology to greatly enhance miner safety, while simultaneously working to develop a successful commercial gas venture to help lead our country to energy dependence,” Steve Abbatello, retired senior vice president of Nalco and Greg Adel, professor of mining and minerals engineering, said in their joint nomination of Albert. “This feat of engineering was a significant safety enhancement for the miner working below the surface. It is impossible to determine the impact on potential lives that were possibly saved.”
The youngest of two sons, Albert had a modest, middle-class upbringing. His father was a route salesman for a local bakery and his mother was a bank teller.
Once he decided to pursue mining engineering, he never gave thought to a university other than Virginia Tech. “I was introduced to Virginia Tech by Pete Ferretti, a former CONSOL executive,” Albert said. “His sons were childhood friends of mine.”
His training as an engineer boiled down to one fundamental skill: “My training taught me how to solve problems and how to work collaboratively with others to solve problems,” he said. Another important lesson was a simple one: “You can be the smartest guy in the world, but if you don’t show up every day to do the job, you won’t have much of a career,” Albert reflected. “The need to show up every day is what you learn in college that prepares you for the real world.”
Albert graduated from Virginia Tech in 1980, and began working for CONSOL Energy as a mining engineer trainee. Early in his career, he was tasked with leading a team to figure out how to degasify coal seams ahead of mining to reduce the amount of combustible methane. It was a special problem for CONSOL as it prepared to open the Buchanan No. 1 mine that would take coal from the Pocahontas No. 3 seam, which Albert called the “gassiest bituminous coalbed in the world.”
CONSOL competitor Island Creek had experienced many problems mining that seam, including dangerous explosions. “If we were going to achieve economical mining rates, we needed a way to degasify the seam before we mined it,” Albert said. Methods that worked on other seams — drilling horizontally into the coal bed to allow the gas to escape — wouldn’t work here. The seam simply wasn’t permeable enough. Albert and his team came up with the idea of drilling vertically and hydraulically fracturing the coal to allow the gas to escape.
The idea was counter to prevailing opinion at the time. Older engineers worried the fracturing would destroy the integrity of the mine’s roof and make it impossible to mine. Albert’s boss at the time, Eustace Frederick, a fellow Academy inductee, was extremely supportive, though. “Eustace fought long and hard for that project,” the mining engineer said. “He realized if we didn’t get the gas out, we couldn’t mine the coal anyway. He really went out on a limb with his career. I didn’t understand at the time the leap of faith he took in all of us.”
The faith was justified and it would turn out to be more than a safety enhancement. The process led to the development of a whole new business for CONSOL: coalbed methane extraction. In 1985, Albert was selected to lead CONSOL’s coalbed methane gas operation in Southern Appalachia. “We quickly began to see that we’ve got a resource here that’s pretty valuable,” Albert said. The wells began producing millions of cubic feet of near pipeline-quality gas every day.
“We took something that was a waste product — methane we were just venting into the atmosphere — and we turned it into a product that contributed to the development of cheap and affordable energy for the whole country,” Albert said. “We took something that was nothing and turned it into a very valuable resource, not just for the company, but the country and the entire economy.”
Albert moved on from coalbed methane and helped CONSOL develop Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale reserves. In 2013, Albert retired as chief operations office of CNX Gas Company.
“Randy has played a key role in the development and growth of CONSOL Energy’s gas business,” J. Brett Harvey, CEO of CONSOL said. “He pioneered the establishment of CONSOL Energy’s coalbed methane gas business in Virginia in the early and mid-1980s. He has been instrumental in building CONSOL Energy into one of the largest and most active exploration and production companies in the Appalachian basin today.”
“I got to work with some of the best people in the business,” Albert said. “It was a very special group of dedicated people who allowed us to grow this business, the people above me and below me at all stages.”
Albert was a founding advisory board member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and served as chairman of the board for the organization. Dave Spigelmyer, president of the coalition, praised Albert for his part in increasing natural gas production. “Randy has been a visionary leader, and we are grateful for the role he has played in helping our nation to achieve meaningful energy security milestones,” he said.
Albert also served on the board of directors of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association, the Coalfield Water Development Fund, and the Virginia Tech Mining Engineering Advisory Board. He is also helping the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering develop a new natural gas engineering program.
“Several of us were talking about what bad shape the coal industry is in, wondering how the department could diversify to provide another opportunity for our graduates,” Albert said. They came up with the idea of a master’s program in natural gas engineering. “It’s in its infancy,” he said. “Hopefully it will turn out to be good for our students, the College of Engineering, and the university.”
Albert stays busy in retirement and serves on the board for Eclipse Resources, an NYSE traded public company; Wellsite Rentals and Fishing, a private company; and several non-profits.
Along the way, Albert married his high school sweetheart Cindy in 1983. She had attended and graduated from Carson Newman while Albert was at Virginia Tech. She served Tazewell County, Virginia, as a schoolteacher for 30 years. In 1987, their son Ryan was born. He and his wife Brittany are the parents of Albert’s twin granddaughters, Reese Ann and Rowan Mary. When they find time to relax during the warm months, you can find them at the Albert’s summer home on the beaches of Hatteras, North Carolina.
Class of: 1980
Year Inducted into Academy: 2016