Ioneer Rhyolite Ridge

Update Aug. 4, 2020 – The Associated Press published an exclusive article that indicates a mine consultant agrees that a Nevada plant is in danger. A botanist hired by lithium mining company Ioneer believes the rare desert wildflower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The candid disclosure was found in 500 pages of emails obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through a public records request. The seemingly contentious relationship between Ioneer and the scientists with researchers continually pushing back against company pressure to hastily publicize success is also discussed in the article.

Australian-based Ioneer Ltd. spent $60,000 on a yearlong study at the University Nevada Reno (UNR) to grow hundreds of Tiehm’s buckwheat seedlings in a campus greenhouse to determine whether it’s feasible to transplant them in the wild to bolster its limited population. Ioneer announced in April a $168,000 grant to UNR to extend a research contract for five years to study Tiehm’s buckwheat.

Posted July 24, 2020 – Two early modern lithium-boron explorations have occurred at Rhyolite Ridge. In the 1980s Rio Tinto’s U.S. Borax collected surface samples and drilled a basin of lithium and boron-rich sediments and completed 57 holes. The area was known as the North Borate Hill project. The work by U.S. Borax was focused on boron mineralization and the lithium was ignored. U.S. Borax also drilled 12 holes at the South Borate Hill project where they discovered higher lithium values.

Between 2010 and 2011 American Lithium Minerals and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation conducted additional lithium exploration in the south basin area. The exploration included 465 surface and trench samples and 36 drill holes.

June 3, 2016, Global Geoscience, an Australian-based lithium-boron developer, announced that it secured an option to acquire a 100% interest in the advanced Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project. The project area covers two known lithium-boron deposits covering approximately 5,400 acres.

May 23, 2017, Global Geoscience announced the appointment of two nonexecutive directors. One was John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil. The second was Alan Davies, the former CEO of energy and industrial minerals for Rio Tinto. News reports related that Alan Davies was fired from Rio Tinto November 2016 over a $10.5 million payment to a consultant to an African president. Davies strongly denied the allegations and said there were no grounds for his termination.

June 6, 2018, development plans were released for the Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project.

June 7, 2018, Global Geoscience announced two senior commercial executive appointments. Michael Le Page was appointed as the commercial director and has close to 40 years of industry experience including 20 years with Rio Tinto which included work in Rio Tinto Minerals and U.S. Borax. Yoshio Nagai was appointed as the sales and business development director and has over 25 years of international experience which includes 10 years with Rio Tinto working with borates, salt and talc products.

Drill core of high-grade lithium-boron mineralisation. Photo credit Ioneer.

Sept. 28, 2018, Global Geoscience announced the change of the company name to Ioneer ltd. The new name was approved by the shareholders at the annual general meeting Oct. 31, 2018. The ASX code “INR” will be used for trading under the new Ioneer name.

Feb. 14, 2019, the Houston Chronicle reported in the article “Wildcatters in the Nevada desert seek the 21st century version of Spindletop” comparing the 1901 discovery of oil at Spindletop in South Texas to the current U.S. lithium exploration and the work being done by Ioneer at Rhyolite Ridge.

April 29, 2019, an independent research and estimated fair value report was published on Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge which includes speculation on the future of lithium and boron mining including Ioneer’s competitor Rio Tinto.

The Australian reported July 12, 2019, that Rio Tinto is linked to an interest in Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium undertakings. Analysts have been examining if major miners such as Rio Tinto might buy into lithium at a time when they are struggling to find production growth opportunities. It is also thought that Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge could be too small of a market for Rio Tinto. But Oct. 31, 2019, Reuters reported that Rio Tinto was pivoting toward smaller finds that had growth potential. In another article the Australian Financial Review reported that Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques believes the future of mining will be in smaller mines that deliver faster turns on investment. Jacques also said ”In terms of resource development maybe the majors also need to think more like fast moving juniors.”

Aug. 7, 2019, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that Ioneer has been working with institutional funds to help them better understand the boron market. Ioneer looks to take on Rio Tinto’s boron project which produces 30% of global boron production and Turkish group Eti Maden which produces 50% of global boron production. Ioneer’s rhyolite Ridge will be a simple open pit operation compared to Rio Tinto’s Jadar project in Serbia which will be an underground operation and will be more costly to operate. Rio Tinto’s Jadar faces technical challenges and has been in the pre-feasibility stage for several years.

Oct. 8, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted an emergency petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat (Eriogonum tiehmii) under the Endangered Species Act. The plant is threatened by mineral exploration at the proposed Ioneer Rhyolite Ridge open pit mine. Tiehm’s buckwheat is a rare wildflower found only on 21 acres of public land in the remote Silver Peak Range of Esmerelda County, Nevada. It is one of the few plants to grow in the highly mineralized soil it is adapted to.

Ioneer has been conducting exploration activities in the buckwheat’s habitat, including grading new roads and well pads and drilling test wells. The company has already bulldozed a road between two of the six populations of buckwheat, potentially irreversibly severing their reproductive connectivity. Long-term plans call for an open pit mine to produce lithium and boron. The proposed mine’s project area includes the entire area where Tiehm’s buckwheat is known to grow. A petition was also filed with the Nevada Division of Forestry to protect the plant. That agency has authority under state law to protect “various species of flora which are threatened with extinction.”

Oct. 30, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity sued to protect the world’s only population of Tiehm’s buckwheat (Eriogonum tiehmii) from harm related to mineral exploration and a proposed open pit mine. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, challenges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision to approve two exploration projects for the proposed mine as separate operations. In doing so the BLM avoided federal requirements to perform an environmental review and get public input. The exploration projects were just under the acreage limits for this exception and, when combined, are well over the 5 acres that triggers review and public comment requirements.

Nov. 1, 2019, Mining News discusses how Rio Tinto’s intermittent messaging around adding lithium to its portfolio to plug in to the  electric vehicle and renewable energy storage revolution has become increasingly confused and could benefit Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge project. “Rio’s lithium muddle and why ioneer could benefit.”

Jan. 3, 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has led to an agreement with Ioneer that will temporarily protect the habitat of a rare Nevada wildflower. The agreement to protect the world’s only population of Tiehm’s buckwheat was reached this week between the Center and the mining company. It comes after the Bureau of Land Management terminated the two challenged mining-exploration permits last month.

“Our agreement saves this delicate little flower from immediate danger,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “But Tiehm’s buckwheat is still threatened by a destructive open-pit mine proposal. Gov. Sisolak and state officials must protect this rare Nevada beauty before it’s too late.”

Jan. 6, 2020, the Reno Gazette Journal reported that Ioneer agreed to a moratorium on new activities at the planned Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine in exchange for the Center of Biological Diversity dropping their lawsuit. The lawsuit also accused the Bureau of Land Management of illegally dividing the mining operations into two separate projects to bypass its own regulations requiring a formal environmental review and public comment on any land disturbances larger than 5 acres. The state of Nevada then announced it was launching a comprehensive review of the status of the wildflower found only in the Silver Peak Range, about 120 miles southeast of Reno.

Feb. 9, 2020, Politico magazine completed an in-depth investigation of Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium project and the endangered Tiehm’s buckwheat. The report, “This Is the Wild West Out Here,” also discusses the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mining approval process and allegations of improper procedures as described by a BLM employee whistleblower.

May 12, 2020, Ioneer announced that it has formally submitted its project plan of operations to the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the proposed Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project. The submission of the plan is a considered a significant step toward project approval. Once BLM completes the initial review it will register a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register and that will initiate the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) preparation and public engagement process as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Tiehm’s buckwheat flower. Photo credit: Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity.

May 19, 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity reported that as the state of Nevada has been urged to protect a rare wildflower as the permitting process for Ioneer’s Rhyolite Ridge intensifies, 10 conservation groups and a renowned botanist urged the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to immediately review the endangered Tiehm’s buckwheat to determine if it should be protected under state law.

July 21, 2020, the Nevada Independent published an article on the status of Tiehm’s buckwheat, “Scientists urge state to protect buckwheat threatened by lithium mining.”

July 22, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announce 90-day findings on two petitions to add species to the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Based on our review, we find that the petitions present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this document, we announce that we plan to initiate status reviews of the Las Vegas bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica) and Tiehm’s buckwheat (Eriogonum tiehmii) to determine whether the petitioned actions are warranted.

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