Environment

State hits pause on mineral company’s southern Utah lithium project

By: Kyle Dunphey, Utah News Dispatch

An Australian-based mineral company hoping to produce lithium along the Green River in southern Utah will have to put its plans on hold for now after a coalition of environmental groups successfully petitioned the state to reconsider its application.

On Tuesday, the Utah Division of Water Rights announced it was reconsidering A1 Lithium’s application to drill a well that would use almost 14,000 acre-feet of water annually, pausing the company’s ambitious plans to source lithium domestically and bring several hundred jobs to Green River.

The decision essentially revokes the approval of A1’s application, marking a course reversal from the state, which gave the company a green light on May 1.

The division will now review the application, as well as the concerns raised by the environmental groups, before the state engineer issues an amended decision. A spokesperson for the Division of Water Rights said the review process could include additional public hearings.

In a statement Tuesday, A1 Lithium acknowledged the petition from the environmental groups and the division’s decision.

“We will continue to work with the Utah Division of Water Rights and other oversight agencies as needed,” said A1 Lithium CEO Bruce Richardson.

The company’s Paradox Lithium Project, named after the basin that covers parts of southeastern Utah into the Four Corners area, has been in the works for several years. Richardson told lawmakers last year the project is expected to be in full swing by 2027.

The water A1 was eying contains lithium brine and according to its application, once the brine is extracted, the water would be reinjected into the ground. So even though the project would use roughly enough water each year to fill a small reservoir (14,000 acre-feet is more than the entire capacity of Recapture Reservoir in San Juan County), A1 claims the process would be non-consumptive.

But environmental groups remain opposed, skeptical that the water would actually be recycled and worried that the approval set a dangerous precedent.

The wells A1 wants to drill would sit near a Cold War-era uranium mill that contaminated the groundwater beneath it. To reach the water appropriated under its application, A1 would have to drill through the radioactive aquifer.

State officials pointed to a number of state and federal regulations dictating how the company should safely operate, but environmental groups said the worst-case scenario — radioactive water seeping into the Colorado River — should be enough to sink the project.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, called Utah’s water law outdated and inadequate when it comes to large-scale lithium projects, which are relatively new to the area.

“The current state of Utah water statutes did not foresee these types of applications,” Roerink said in a news release. “The region’s legacy of blowouts, radioactive pollution, and aridity warrant reconsideration to prevent environmental degradation and uphold the public welfare.”

The Great Basin Water Network, along with the environmental group Living Rivers, filed a request for reconsideration with the division on May 21, asking state officials to deny, or at least put on hold, the company’s application. That request was granted on Tuesday.

“Our community deserves a review that considers all the inherent dangers with this proposed project that could sit on the banks of the Green River,” said Gayna Salinas, a Green River resident whose property neighbors A1’s proposed drilling site. “We are not opposed to lithium mines. We are worried about the location and nature of this project.”

You May Also Like
TownLift Is Brought To You In Part By These Presenting Partners.
Advertisement

Add Your Organization

574 views