Update May 22, 2021 – Two federal lawsuits have been filed against the Bureau of Land Management regarding Lithium Americas proposed Thacker Pass lithium mining project. Activists with the Protect Thacker Pass movement continue to remain on the project site and widescale resistance against the lithium project intensifies.
Feb. 11, 2021, Edward Bartell and Bartell Ranch, LLC filed case No. 3:21-cv-00080 in the United States District Court, District of Nevada, against the Bureau of Land Management alleging that the Thacker Pass lithium project imminently threatens private ranch lands and water rights with irreparable harm including fish, wildlife, wetlands and stream flows.
In an article by Grist “The Battle of Thacker Pass” Bartell relates that when he first learned of the lithium project, he was somewhat excited about it. But as Bartell learned more about the project and process, he became increasingly worried about the impacts.
The Northern Nevada Business Weekly reported in their article “Lawsuit filed to block $1.3 billion Lithium Nevada mine project” that the Bureau of Land Management relied “entirely upon flawed and error-laden findings” in environmental assessments prepared by the mine’s own contractor, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Reno.
Feb. 26, 2021, Western Watersheds Project, Great Basin Resource Watch, Basin and Range Watch and Wildlands Defense filed case No. 3:21-cv-00103 in the United States District Court, District of Nevada, against the Bureau of Land Management challenging the decisions of the Bureau of Land Management to approve the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mining project.
The Sierra Nevada Ally reported in their article “Second lawsuit filed over Thacker Pass lithium mine” that the Trump administration fast tracked National environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assessments and mandated that environmental reviews be completed in less than one year. The Thacker Pass project was approved just days before the end of the Trump presidency.
Deseret News reports in “The rise of electric vehicles is disrupting life in a small Western community” that the lithium project created unlikely alliances as efforts to address climate change clash with the impacts of the project.
S&P Global Market Intelligence reported in their article “Environmentalists sue to block Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass mine in Nevada” that the approval of the mine led to Lithium Americas equities increasing and gave way to a $400 million capital raise from an underwritten public offering with proceeds earmarked for the project.
Protect Thacker Pass
Activists Will Falk and Max Wilbert have continued to maintain a presence on the proposed Thacker Pass lithium project site since Jan. 15, 2021. KTVN News reports in “Activists Camp at Thacker Pass to Prevent Lithium Mine from Opening” that several people are currently camped at the site and up to 30 people visit on weekends.
March 22, 2021, activists with Protect Thacker Pass occupied the front steps of the corporate office of Lithium Americas, 900 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC. As reported in “Vancouver activists occupy Lithium Americas head office” and “Deep Green Resistance comes to Vancouver” the purpose was to bring awareness to lithium mining. “We want to make the public aware that lithium mining is extremely harmful to nature and even though lithium is an element destined for smartphones and electric cars, it’s extraction is the opposite of sustainable,” explains Nicola Rodriguez.
Additional information on the efforts by activists are reported in Protect Thacker Pass.
Native American Resistance
Resistance to the proposed lithium project is also coming from Native American communities. Native News Online reports “Lithium Mining Proposal in Northern Nevada Threatens Paiute and Shoshone Land.” The project is in traditional Paiute and Shoshone land and holds great ecological and cultural significance and the proposal to build an open-pit lithium mine threatens to disturb the area. The tribe also states that they did not get the opportunity to comment during the EIS’s commentary period.
The People of Red Mountain, a group of tribal descendants from Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe have also united in the resistance to the project and have issued a statement indicating that they intend to stand up to the destruction of land, water, air, and life on ancestral homelands such as mining projects like Thacker Pass. “People of Red Mountain Statement of Opposition to Lithium Nevada Corp’s Proposed Thacker Pass Open Pit Lithium Mine.”
The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe also formally resolved to cancel a Project Engagement Agreement with Lithium Americas, Lithium Nevada, citing threats to land, water, wildlife, hunting and gathering areas, and sacred sites. “Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe Cancels Agreement with Lithium Mine, Promising Lawsuit.”
Tribal members have also been highly active protesting on the site of the proposed lithium project as reported by the Sierra Nevada Ally “Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribal members protest Thacker Pass lithium mine” and “Native Americans converge at proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine site.”
The People of Red Mountain have also started a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help resist the proposed lithium project. “People of Red Mountain – Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu.”
Lithium Americas Company and Project Updates
Lithium Americas reports the remaining state permits and water right transfers required to commence construction at Thacker Pass could be issued later this year. The process testing facility in Reno, Nevada, has produced over 20,000 kg of lithium sulphate solution. Results of a feasibility study targeting an initial 30,000–35,000 tonnes per annum lithium carbonate equivalent of capacity for the first phase is also expected later this year. The company is advancing engineering to consider a 20,000 tonnes per annum lithium hydroxide chemical conversion plant to have flexibility to meet potential customer and partner needs.
Lithium Americas continues to expand the engineering and technical team at Thacker Pass with over 30 professionals focused on advancing the project toward the start of construction expected to begin in early 2022. The company continues to evaluate partnership and financing opportunities for Thacker Pass to advance and de-risk the project.
Alexi Zawadzki , the CEO of Lithium Nevada, a company of Lithium Americas, published an opinion article in the Sierra Nevada Ally “Lithium Nevada Corp’s CEO explains the benefits of the Thacker Pass Lithium Project.”
Jon Evans, the CEO of Lithium Americas, recently appeared on Yahoo Finance and discussed his outlook to produce lithium in the United States “Lithium Americas CEO on his outlook for U.S. lithium production.”
January 2021 Evans spoke with BNN Bloomberg to discuss partnerships “Lithium Americas CEO open to partnerships for Thacker Pass Mine” and February 2020 Evans spoke with BNN Bloomberg to discuss the sale of a majority stake of its Cauchari-Olaroz project in Argentina to a Chinese partner “Lithium Americas CEO: We’ll make money despite price slump.”
Feb. 18, 2021 – High Country News “Nevada lithium mine kicks off a new era of Western extraction”
March 5, 2021 – Vice News “Inside the Lithium Mining War That Could Poison the Nevada Desert’s Water”
March 6, 2021 – Sierra Nevada Ally “How corporations work to undermine grassroots resistance, and how to stop them”
March 8, 2021 – Novus Confidential “BLM Wants to Destroy a Ranch in Nevada”
April 26, 2021 – Reno News & Review “The lithium paradox”
May 6, 2021 – The New York Times “The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles”
May 8, 2021 – Forbes India “The lithium gold rush: Inside the race to power electric vehicles”
May 14, 2021 – John M. Glionna “Thacker Pass and the battle over dirty Green technology”
Update Jan. 28, 2021 – The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Lithium Americas Corporation’s Thacker Pass lithium project in Nevada Jan. 15, 2021.
“The publication of the Final EIS is the culmination of more than a decade of work studying, exploring and developing the Thacker Pass project,” commented Jon Evans, President and CEO.
Lithium Americas also announced the closing of its underwritten public offering of shares of its common stock for gross proceeds to the company of approximately US$400 million. Work at the mine site is expected to begin the first quarter of 2021.
The approval of the Lithium Americas Thacker Pass project has also attracted the attention of environmental activists who have now established a protest at the site location.
On Friday, Jan. 15, two activists drove eight hours from Eugene, Oregon, to a remote corner of public land in Nevada, where they pitched a tent in below-freezing temperatures and unfurled a banner declaring: “Protect Thacker Pass.” You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the place—it’s seriously in the boonies—but these activists, Will Falk and Max Wilbert, hope to make it into a household name.
The protesters have also published a website detailing their cause and efforts called Protect Thacker Pass. The activity by the protesters has caught the attention of the media and the group has been interviewed on KPFA radio in Berkley, California as well as other environmental podcasts.
Jan. 25, 2021, the Sierra Nevada Ally published an opinion article by protester Max Wilbert “Green Lithium Mining is a Bright Green Lie. Dispatches from Thacker Pass.” Wilbert is listed as an organizer, writer, and wilderness guide and has been part of grassroots political work for nearly 20 years.
The Northern Nevada Business Weekly filed this report on the mine approval and protest occupation and the Reno Gazette Journal filed this report “Conservationists, energy producers clash over Nevada ‘clean energy’ lithium mine”.
Update Sept. 19, 2020 – The Sierra Nevada Ally published an article Aug. 28, 2020, recapping the status of Thacker Pass project. The report included the economic benefits of the project and that it has support from Nevada lawmakers.
The article also includes reaction from residents who are concerned about changes to the area and possible negative impacts to water and the environment. The Great Basin Resource Watch, a Nevada based nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the environment, also voiced their concerns.
The Elko Daily Free Press published an article Sept. 3, 2020, which also reported the concerns from local ranchers. Also reported is the relationship the parent company of the Thacker Pass project, Vancouver, Canada, based Lithium Americas, has with the Chinese based Gangfeng Lithium company.
Sept. 16, 2020, the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) announced that it approved abatements for Lithium Nevada Corporation’s Thacker Pass project.
GOED stated that Lithium Nevada Corp. is currently designing and permitting for the chemical manufacturing of high purity lithium chemicals as a byproduct of mineral processing in Thacker Pass in northern Humboldt County. The company will invest $514.3 million in the project, creating 113 jobs at an average wage of $37.84 per hour in the first two years of operation. Additionally, GOED estimates this will create more than 2,800 construction jobs. They received a 2% sales tax abatement for two years that is worth $5 million, a 50% modified busines tax abatement for four years that is worth $225,614 and a 50% personal property tax abatement for 10 years that is worth $3.38 million.
Posted July 30, 2020 – The Thacker Pass Project is located within the McDermitt Caldera in Humboldt County in northern Nevada, approximately 60 miles north of Winnemucca, approximately 20 miles northwest of Orovada, Nevada, and 20 miles south of the Oregon border. It is situated at the southern end of the McDermitt Caldera and encompasses approximately 8,320 acres.
Chevron began exploring the McDermitt Caldera in 1975 for uranium. Early in Chevron’s program, the United States Geological Survey alerted Chevron to the presence of irregular concentrations of lithium associated with the caldera. Chevron added lithium to its assays in 1978 and 1979, started a clay analysis program, and obtained samples for engineering work, while uranium remained the primary focus of exploration. Most of the project area was surveyed by airborne gamma ray spectrometry.
Between 1980 and 1987 Chevron began a drilling program that focused on lithium targets and conducted extensive metallurgical testing to determine the viability of extracting lithium from the clays. The results confirmed high lithium concentrations.
Chevron leased many of the claims that included the lithium to the J. M. Huber Corporation in 1986. In 1991, Chevron sold its interest in the claims to Cyprus Gold Exploration Corporation. In 1992, Huber terminated the lease. Cyprus Gold Exploration Corporation allowed the claims to lapse and provided much of the exploration data to one of the prior claim owners. Western Energy Development Corporation, a Nevada corporation, leased the claims in 2005 and was given access to the Chevron data and core samples that were available.
Between 2007 and 2011, Western Lithium USA Corporation conducted an exploration program that focused on the southern portion of the McDermitt Caldera. Of 232 drilled exploration holes, 198 cores were assayed. The results of the assay analysis indicated the presence of an anomalously high-grade lithium deposit. A survey was completed using a Trimble Global Positioning System and the surface area was mapped by aerial photography.
The project has been in active development since 2008 and was operated by Western Lithium USA Corporation until 2015 when it merged with Lithium Americas Corporation. In March 2016, Western Lithium USA Corporation adopted the Lithium Americas Corporation name and renamed the Nevada-based subsidiary Lithium Nevada Corporation.
Lithium Nevada Corporation conducted an exploration program in 2017 to identify a resource of scale in the Thacker Pass area, where sage grouse habitat quality is substantially lower than in the Montana Mountains to the north. In Thacker Pass, 77 exploration holes were drilled, a seismic survey was conducted, and the surface geology of the project was remapped. The results indicated a larger lithium deposit than was previously identified.
The Thacker Pass project is 100% owned by Lithium Americas Corporation and there has been no commercial lithium production from the property. Through a subsidiary company, Lithium Americas Corporation does operate a hectorite clay mine on the property that produces hectorite clays for industrial purposes. The facility consists of a small open pit and small outbuilding.
Nov. 19, 2018, The Northern Miner reported Lithium Americas Thacker Pass deposit is the largest lithium clay project in the world with a mine life of 46 years. The company has just begun the permitting process and expects to start building the first phase of the project by the end of 2020, with lithium production beginning in 2022.
Aug. 30, 2019, Mining Technology reported that the Thacker Pass lithium project was one of the “Top ten biggest lithium mines in the world.” The article stated that mine is estimated to contain proven and probable reserves of 179.4Mt containing 3.1Mt of lithium carbonate equivalent and has an estimated mine life of 46 years. The pre-feasibility study was completed August 2018, which proposed the two-phase mine development using open-pit methods. Phase one is expected to be commissioned in 2022 with a production capacity of 30,000tpa of battery-grade material while phase two will increase the capacity to 60,000tpa with a commissioning date of 2026.
Lithium Americas Thacker Pass Project Plan of Operations was submitted to the Bureau of Land Management August 2019 and accepted September 2019. The Bureau of Land Management published a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the proposed Thacker Pass Lithium Mine project in the Federal Register Jan. 21, 2020. The public scoping period opened Jan. 21, 2020, and closed Feb. 27, 2020.
Jan. 31, 2020, the Northern Nevada Business Weekly reported in the article “$1.3 billion Lithium Nevada project on track for 2020 milestones” that the Bureau of Land Management has started their 12-month approval process. If the project is approved the company projects operations will create approximately 1,000 jobs during construction of the $1.3 billon facility and will employ more than 285 people upon completion.
In recent company newsletters Lithium Americas reported that they have been running bulk ore through its new process research facility located in Reno, Nevada, since early 2019. The facility contains pilot-scale equipment representing key unit operations of the lithium extraction process. To date, over 20 tons of ore have been processed at the facility, generating essential data to be used for engineering and design of the full-scale plant.
Lithium Nevada maintains Thacker Pass project offices in Winnemucca and Reno, Nevada. The parent company, Lithium Americas, is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.
July 29, 2020, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) analyzing the potential impacts of the proposed Thacker Pass Lithium Project. If approved, the project would develop lithium reserves within the Thacker Pass deposit, the largest and highest-grade known sedimentary deposit of this critical mineral in the United States, and the second largest in the world.
The BLM also published the Notice of Availability (NOA). The public comment period is open and will close Sept. 14, 2020. Public meetings for this project will be held Aug. 19 and 20 online through a webinar platform due to the VOVID-19 pandemic. Globe Newswire also published an article about the announcement.
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