Feds give final approval for $1.3 billion Thacker Pass Lithium Mine

RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Humboldt River Field Office on Jan. 15 issued a Record of Decision approving the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine proposed by Lithium Nevada Corporation in rural Northern Nevada.

The roughly $1.3 billion project entails the manufacturing of high purity lithium chemicals as a byproduct of mineral processing near Thacker Pass in northern Humboldt County near Orovada; the project site, which includes 5,700 acres of public lands, is located roughly 50 miles north-northwest of Winnemucca.

The project — is operated by Reno-based Lithium Nevada Corporation, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Vancouver, Canada-based Lithium Americas Corporation — would employ roughly 1,000 employees during construction and 300 employees once fully operational.

“Lithium is identified as essential to the economic and national security of the United States,” according to a press release from the BLM. “It has several uses, but one of the most valuable is as a component of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Lithium consumption has increased significantly in recent years because rechargeable lithium batteries are used extensively in the growing market for portable electronic devices and in electric tools, electric vehicles and grid storage applications.”

According to previous reports, Lithium Nevada Corporation expects to receive all major permits by March 2021; full-scale construction would begin later in the year, with the company projecting the third quarter of 2022 as an estimated target date to start production.

“The Thacker Pass Mine will provide a long-term solution for the growing need for lithium while providing economic benefits for Humboldt County, especially around Orovada, McDermitt and Winnemucca,” Winnemucca BLM District Manager Ester McCullough said in a statement.

A Notice of Availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 3. Go here to learn more.

“The project will be developed as an open-pit mining operation using conventional continuous mining equipment. Given the soft nature of the deposit, minimal blasting and crushing is anticipated,” according to the company’s project page. “… With the reliance on sulfuric acid, the project will involve the construction of a conventional sulfuric acid plant at site. The sulfuric acid plant will convert molten sulfur into low-cost sulfuric acid reducing transportation costs and providing a low-cost source of power.

“In addition, the sulfuric acid plant contemplates a co-generation facility, which the PFS assumes will provide enough carbon-free electricity to power the entire project with excess power being sold to the grid."

According to previous reports, the proposed project will have a life expectancy of approximately 41 years; however, more recent updates published on the company’s project page indicate a mine life of 46 years.

The project has faced objections from local residents, tribal members, ranchers and environmental groups who are concerned about impacts on wildlife and rural quality of life, according to activists who have set up camp on site to block the project.

Despite the mine's proposed economic benefits and purported environmental benefits, the project has garnered criticism from environmentalists, so much so that activists aiming to stop the project launched a permanent protest encampment hours after the BLM's Jan. 15 approval.

Lawyer Will Falk, who is among the protestors on site, says they mean to stay for as long as it takes to protect the old-growth sagebrush mountainside, according to a Jan. 25 press release.

“Environmentalists might be confused about why we want to interfere with the production of electric car batteries,” Falk said in the release. “But, it’s wrong to destroy a mountain for any reason — whether the reason is fossil fuels or lithium.”

According to the release, "activists will remain in place and block all construction, mining and road-building activities." Specifically, they demand:

  1. The establishment of a protected area at Thacker Pass preserved for the enjoyment of future generations, for wildlife, and for water quality;
  2. Lithium Americas’ immediate abandonment of the Thacker Pass project; and
  3. A sincere apology from Lithium Americas Corporation for claiming that the project is “green.”

“To protect what’s left of the natural world, we must leave minerals in the ground — not just oil and gas – and learn to live within ecological constraints as respectful members of natural communities," Max Wilbert, another organizer of the protest and author of "Bright Green Lies," a book analyzing the environmental harms of renewable energy projects, said in a statement. "Humans must learn to live with less. Or, we will not live at all.”

The activists have established the following website where people can go to learn more about their side of the story: www.protectthackerpass.org.

The demand for lithium is expected to grow more than 500% by 2025. The Thacker Pass mine has the potential to produce approximately 25% of global demand, according to Lithium Nevada.


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