NASA requests BLM block lithium mining at desert site in Nevada

June 23, 2023

Lithium is a crucial mineral needed for batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) which in turn are an important part of the global energy transition. Demand for lithium is high and is expected to continue to rise in coming years yet mining the metal still faces stiff opposition from environmentalist, farmers, ranchers and in the case of one lithium deposit in Nevada, opposition from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In Railroad Valley, Nevada and ancient lakebed that is “flat as a tabletop and undisturbed like none other in the Western Hemisphere — is indispensable for calibrating the razor-sharp measurements of hundreds of satellites orbiting overhead,” according to a report from the Associated Press.

The request of NASA, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed to withdraw 92 square kilometers (36 sq miles) of the eastern Nevada terrain from its inventory of federal lands open to potential mineral exploration and mining.

NASA has used Railroad Valley used for nearly three decades to get measurements just right to keep satellites and their applications functioning properly.

“No other location in the United States is suitable for this purpose,” BLM concluded in April after receiving NASA’s input on the tract 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Las Vegas.

The bureau has spent nearly three years fighting mining challenges of all sorts from environmentalists, tribal leaders, ranchers and others who want to overturn approval of the Thacker Pass Mine.

In December, the bureau initiated a review of plans for another lithium mine conservationists oppose near the California line where an endangered desert wildflower grows, about 370 km (230 miles) southeast of Reno.

The AP reported that tn Railroad Valley, satellite calculations are critical to gathering information beamed from space with widespread applications from weather forecasting to national security, agricultural outlooks and natural disasters, according to NASA, which said the satellites “provide vital and often time-critical information touching every aspect of life on Earth.”

That increasingly includes certifying measurements related to climate change.

“As our nation becomes ever more impacted by an evolving and changing environment, it is critical to have reliable and accurate data and imagery of our planet,” said Mark Moneza of Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based satellite imaging company that has relied on NASA’s site to calibrate more than 250 of its satellites since 2016.

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei told a House subcommittee last week that the decision underscores the “hypocrisy” of President Joe Biden’s administration.

“It is supposedly a goal of the Biden Administration to boost the development of renewable energy technology and reduce carbon in our atmosphere,” Amodei said. “Yet they support blocking a project to develop the lithium necessary for their clean energy objectives.”

The Carson City, Nevada, company holding most of the mining claims, 3 Proton Lithium Inc., had not submitted any formal project plans in 2021 when NASA requested the land withdrawal. But the firm claimed to have done extensive research in anticipation of future plans to extract the brine-based lithium resource it said is one of the 10 largest deposits in the world.

Chairman Kevin Moore said the tract’s withdrawal likely will prevent his energy company from pumping the “super brine” from about one-third of its claims there, including the deepest, richest deposits holding about 60 percent of the site’s value. He joined Amodei in testifying last week before the House Resources Subcommittee on Mining and Mineral Resources.

“This project is a vital part of transitioning to a green economy, creating good-paying American jobs, combating climate change, ending America’s over-reliance on foreign adversaries and securing a domestic supply chain for critical and rare earth minerals,” Moore said.

Other opponents of BLM’s move include James Ingraffia, founder of the energy exploration company Lithium Arrow LLC. He told the bureau in earlier public comments that by establishing obstacles to Railroad Valley lithium mining, it was undermining efforts to combat climate change.



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