Wyoming to proceed slowly on $500 billion lithium find

May 13, 2013

Wyoming state officials have decided to proceed with caution in how they handled the permitting process for a massive lithium find near Rock Springs during work on a carbon dioxide storage site project.

The discovery, made by Researchers at the University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute, is estimated to be worth $500 billion. It has already attracted four lithium lease applications, but the applications are on hold for now while state officials develop a strategy on how to handle mining of the new resource, the Associated Press reported.

Ryan Lance, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, said the State Board of Land Commissioners is taking its time deciding how to handle the applications because of the enormous potential value of the lithium find.

The state board includes Gov. Matt Mead and the other four elected state officials.

The board’s options include issuing leases on a first-come, first-served basis or an auction.

Lithium, a key component of batteries and many electronic devices, has become highly sought after around the world. Wind, solar and smart-grid technologies all employ lithium-ion batteries to store energy for later use.

Preliminary analyses of fluid samples collected from a well drilled on the Rock Springs Uplift suggested that reservoir brines from a 65 km2 (25 sq mi) area of the 5,180 km2 (2,000 sq mi) uplift could contain 206 kt (228,000 st) of lithium.

State rules on metallic and nonmetallic leases and forms say the first one who applies gets the lease. But the rules also say the State Board of Land Commissioners can decide to hold an auction or require bids for a lease or leases instead.

The state is “time stamping” applications so the priority list will be available if the board decides to lease first-come, first-served, Lance told the Casper Star-Tribune.

“We’re talking about a $500 billion market price on that lithium and we, of course, have to be very cautious,” he said. “We don’t want to give it to anyone for a dollar.”

Ron Surdam, director of the UW Carbon Management Institute, said that in addition to creating a new industry for Wyoming, the lithium discovery could produce enough money to offset the cost of creating the carbon storage space deep in the ground.

The briny water in the Rock Springs Uplift would have to be removed to allow CO2 storage. In the uplift’s case, the water contains lithium.



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