A Canadian company called Lancaster Resources has acquired land in New Mexico that it plans to turn into a lithium mine, currently known as the Alkali Flat lithium brine project.
The company recently submitted applications to New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a permit to drill three wells, reports NM Political Report.
Lithium is currently a crucial component of electric vehicle batteries, and with the rise of the EV industry, the demand for lithium is growing constantly.
However, lithium is not a renewable resource, and the process of mining for it has a substantially negative environmental impact, including air and water pollution, land degradation, and groundwater contamination, per Earth.org.
So while the net total environmental impact of lithium mining for EV batteries is still much lower than the impact from dirty energy mining and gas-powered vehicles, the prospect of a new lithium mine tends to give nearby residents cause for concern.
Another proposed domestic lithium mine, the Thacker Pass project in Nevada, has encountered significant opposition from Native American and environmental groups.
The project would set up a mine on land on which two massacres of Native American peoples took place, and that “is still used today for ceremonies, traditional hunting and gathering, and educating young Native people,” according to the Protect Thacker Pass website.
The group also claims that the environmental reviews conducted around the Thacker Pass project are misleading and significantly downplay the harm the project would cause, including the accusation that it would pump four million gallons of water per day from an aquifer in one of the driest states in the U.S.
The Alkali Flat project is seeking to get out ahead of those types of concerns by saying that it will use a process called direct lithium extraction (DLE), according to NM Political report, that still involves pumping water from an aquifer, but could theoretically lead to less environmental damage.
However, that technology is still in its infancy, and experts have raised concerns about its still mostly unknown consequences.
“We know that New Mexico is obviously an arid state, freshwater is extremely valuable. And so we’re going to look at doing everything we can to sort of minimize any freshwater requirements by using that produced water that carries this brine,” Andrew Watson, Lancaster Resources’ vice president of operations and engineering, told NM Political Report.
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