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As the demand for lithium grows, a mining company wants to extract the metal from old oil and gas wells in Grand County, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park.png
Dave Hensley
/
KZMU
Dead Horse Point State Park. A-1 Lithium has submitted a proposal to the BLM a few miles outside the state park.

A mining company wants to extract lithium from old oil and gas wells in Grand County, Utah. The metal is used in electronics such as batteries, and demand for it is expected to grow.

Companies are exploring deposits across the country, including the Paradox Basin in southeastern Utah.

A1 Lithium, the American subsidiary of the Australian company Anson Resources, has a plan to tap brine deposits using old wells in Grand County, Utah.

A video posted by the company to Twitter in April shows the salty water being pumped from deep under the ground, ready for testing.

The hope is that there’s enough lithium and other materials in the liquid to make extraction worth it.

So far, the company has tested the method in a few wells. But they are looking to expand what they call their Paradox Lithium Project in the region.

They’ve submitted a proposal to the BLM to reopen two plugged wells a couple of miles outside of Dead Horse Point State Park.

As lithium demand continues to grow, due largely to electrical vehicles, the Paradox Basin region may attract business.

This area has mineral rich brine deposits left over from oceans that are millions of years old.

Landon Newell of the conservationist group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says there could be more proposals in the future.

"And the one thing that the BLM needs to recognize is this possibility that this is just the first of many exploration or development proposals for this area."

Newell says his group has taken an interest in this proposal because it is one of the first of its kind.

"So the way that we're viewing the project is it's sort of the camel's nose under the tent scenario, where on its face, it may not appear to be the most destructive or the most environmentally unreasonable proposal, but lurking out there is the reality that this company has over 1,000 mining claims."

The company’s website says that lithium samples so far meet or exceed “battery grade” standards in those test wells.

They also say southeastern Utah is well positioned to be an American source for electric vehicle and battery storage material.

"If it were to come back, as like economically viable, then that could really drive interest in this region," says Newell.

The company needs to build a couple more access roads for this project, off State Route 313. That’s what they are asking BLM permission for.

Newell says that lithium will be important for the transition to a greener economy.

"But that said, lithium mining, that's not a free pass to just go about on our public lands. Authorizing any project that comes the agency's way like this, needs to be well thought out. It needs to be the most environmentally protective way of mining in this area."

This story from KZMU was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio.

Justin Higginbottom works for KZMU in Moab, Utah. Justin joined KZMU News in 2021 as a reporter. His first journalism gig was at a newspaper in Salt Lake City. After that he moved to Cambodia to work for an English-language daily. He lived across Asia and the Middle East, writing features on culture and conflict, before coming back home to Utah.