The Impacts Of Thacker Pass Mine

In October, DGR conducted an on-the-ground fact finding mission to the sites of two proposed lithium mines in Nevada. In this article, we look at the facts regarding the plans Lithium Nevada company has for mining and processing lithium (mainly destined for making electric car batteries) in northern Nevada, at Thacker Pass.

The company, now with shares owned by a Chinese mining company, claim their open-pit strip-mine will be a “green mine.” Much of this material comes from Special thanks to Aimee Wild for collating this material.

Why Lithium?

Lithium is the lightest metal on the periodic table of the elements. It is cost effective. It is an excellent conductor. Lithium batteries power cell phones, laptops and now cars. The batteries are rechargeable and last longer than other batteries. Lithium is also used in heat-resistant glass, ceramics, aircraft metals, lubrication grease, air treatment systems and some pharmaceuticals.

Interest in the mining of lithium as an important commodity is soaring. Lithium is located in the earth’s crust, oceans, mineral springs and igneous rocks. To be able to extract it economically an area, concentrated lithium is needed, hence the interest in the Nevada site.  Thousands and thousands of tons of lithium are extracted, processed, transported and utilized every year.

Thacker Pass Mine

Thacker Pass Mine is owned by Lithium Americas. They have a mining project in South America (The Cauchari-Olaroz Project) which is currently under construction, and of course in Nevada, the proposed Thacker Pass mine. Ganfeng (a chinese based mining company) is one of the largest shareholders of Lithium America. This increases the potential for mining and  processing to be shipped overseas.

Local communities have struggled to get to the bottom of the plans for the mines. The brochures are complicated and convoluted. What is clear is that the local people have been chosen as a guinea pig. Most Lithium mines in South America involve pumping saltwater brine on barren salt flats where the lithium slowly floats to the top, is skimmed off, and is then purified for use in batteries.

​In Australia they use spodumene ore, which is higher quality than the product Lithium Nevada plans to use. There are concerns linked to  how the poorer quality lithium will be processed and the transport of chemicals into the processing areas. There are concerns regarding the transportation of refinery waste by rail cars, and shipping.  The plans include transporting waste sulfur, by truck to the mine site, where it will be burned and converted to enormous quantities of Sulfuric Acid on a daily basis. Processing (burning) elemental sulfur, creates sulfur dioxide, sulfur trioxide and ultimately sulfuric acid—all of which are toxic and harmful to life.

Radioactive Waste?

There are concerns that the processing of lithium could ‘accidentally’ expose naturally-occurring uranium. Of course there have been promised by the company to ensure that any radioactive waste will be contained by a “liner.” This seems wholly inadequate when considering there is a water source nearby, and  processing plants can have accidental fires or explosion. We know from global disasters (Fukoshima and Chernobyl) that the impact environmental disasters involving radioactive waste can devastate human and non-human communities. Transporting chemicals to or from processing plants increase the risk of accidents, and the smell of sulphur in nearby neighborhoods is likely to be overwhelming at times.

Clarity Needed On The Impact Of Thacker Pass Mine

Opposition to these plans are likely to strengthen when the public understand the plans and the potential impact, and when the information is not shrouded in convoluted documents. In short, the mines almost certainly will be destructive to water fowl, to any life in the rivers and lakes nearby, and impact on the water table.

The air quality is likely to reduce, and the storage and transportation of toxic chemicals increases non-intentional leakage/accidents. If understood correctly the plans to dispose of some waste include a tailing pond, which could contain a) toxic solids, b) harmful discharges c) could impact air quality, and d) could leach into ground water. The mining and processing of lithium is destructive to people, non-human life, the land, the water and the air.

Is It Carbon Neutral?

Burning sulfur does not create carbon, so in that respect the facts are correct. However, as with all green capitalist extraction plans this is a small percentage of the whole picture. The whole picture (or the fact based plans) are obscured with overly complex plans and emperors-new-clothes type scenarios. The process of burning sulfur creates harmful (toxic) chemicals and removes oxygen from the atmosphere.

A conservative estimate is that the processing plant will require over 10,000 gallons of diesel per day to run. In additional to this is the fuel needed to transport the sulfur from the refinery (yes; it comes from an oil refinery) to the mine site. You also have the fuel needed to transport the workers and the electricity needed to keep the plant functioning.

There are concerns that the lithium from this project could be shipped to China for processing in the future. Lithium Americas has been loaned substantial amounts of money from Ganfeng and Bangchak. The Chinese Mining company already own shares in Lithium Nevada and could intentionally own more rights if the loan is not paid back.

So, carbon neutral—no. Friendly to the environment—no. There is not much difference between mountaintop removal coal mining and mountaintop removal lithium mining. Both are exceptionally destructive.

You can read more about lithium mines here: Join our newsletter for more info on lithium mining and greenwashing.

4 thoughts on “The Impacts Of Thacker Pass Mine”

  1. This article is not based on facts and is misleading. Environmental impact has been evaluated by scientists, environmentalists and far exceeds government standards. The Thacker Pass mining project will bring 1000+ much needed jobs, provide America with a much needed resource to meet green initiatives in Nevada and across the US. Ganfeng does not have any interest in the Lithium Americas, Thacker Pass project and no product will be “required” to leave the US. Ganfeng owns 59% of the joint lithium project at Cauchari-Olaroz, with Lithium America’s owning the remaining interest. Thacker Pass is 100% owned by LAC.

  2. Anyone who complained about the movie Planet of the Humans should read this.

    Can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either humans stop living like this or they will just continue destroying the planet and killing everything that lives here. We could eliminate industrial living in 150-200 years without major immediate lifestyle changes or harms to people if people made an effort to do so and lowered their global population to one billion.

  3. Pollution aside, an extraterrestrial observer of human activity could only conclude that we are trying to use up the planet as fast as possible.

    Industry currently uses over 50 billion tons a year of non-renewable resources — none of which are fully recyclable, and little other than metals are effectively recycled at all. In the case of steel, for instance, the industry itself estimates that the remaining supply of extractable steel components will run out in 60 years or so. Based on the last half century of consumption, however, that end date will occur by 2036.

    In the case of lithium, the picture is even bleaker. Recent industry estimates are that China controls over half of the world’s extractable lithium, and that over half of that has already been used, in the less than a half century that industry has found a major use for it. And that usage is increasing exponentially.

    Researchers at Stanford (and a few Silicon Valley companies) are working on methods to develop lithium nano-batteries, which they claim will be so efficient that a small city could run on the power produced on a table top, and supply the world’s energy needs “almost indefinitely.” In less than 20 years, they foresee electric cars that could run for 9 months on a single charge, or drive from California to New York and back without recharging.

    That sounds like a super-high tech version of my oil executive father’s assurances, 60 years ago, that tar sands and shale oil could supply the world’s power needs for 500 years. This, of course, was without considering the law of unintended consequences — little things like the pollution of ground water, the rape of surrounding lands, global air pollution, ocean acidification, an 80-foot sea level rise, and climate change incompatible with life on earth.

    I should point out that my father also believed the Earth was only 6000 years old, and that the Great Flood really happened. This is not to say that all industrialists are Bible literalists. But one way or another, they do all live in a fantasy world.

  4. Green jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , are classified as, “jobs in business that produce goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources” or “jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources”.
    These would not be green jobs.

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