To fully understand the environmental, social and democratic issues surrounding the Authier mining project, it is necessary to appreciate how sacred the Saint-Mathieu-Berry esker is to the population of the Regional County Municipality (MRC) of Abitibi. Abitibi is a regional county of Quebec, Canada with a population of roughly 25,000 people and the city of Amos lies at its center. The Saint-Mathieu-Berry esker is a natural filter inherited from the retreat of the glaciers several millennia ago and shelters an underground river with water of exceptional purity which, in 2001, received the prestigious distinction of best water in the world  . Moreover, it is from this source that the well-known water bottling company Eska is supplied.
On February 1, 2018, a young citizen of Amos sounded the alert in local media after discovering, according to his estimates, that an Australian mining company, Sayona Mining, wanted to exploit a lithium deposit within 500 meters of the esker . The news instantly sparked outrage among the Abitibi population. The company then waited nearly five months to clarify, at the insistence of the assembly in a consultation session, that the actual distance between the pit and the esker would be 75 meters. To contain criticism, the mining company made a written pledge that it "will not come within 50 meters of the esker." However, a map that the company was going to release on October 2, 2018 showed that the nearest projected facilities were barely 20.2 meters from the esker .
The impression that Sayona Mining is attempting to conceal sensitive information has persisted since the public learned that the mining company deliberately designed its project to avoid being subjected to an investigation by the Public Hearings Bureau on the Environment (BAPE). Indeed, by choosing to extract 1900 metric tonnes per day, Sayona Mining legally managed to fall below the 2000 tonnes threshold, which would result in the automatic application of the rigorous environmental impact assessment and review procedure. The company has since acknowledged that it initially planned to extract a daily volume of 2,100 tonnes, following on the plans of the previous mine from which it acquired the mining rights in 2016   .
Since March 23, 2018, the Environment Quality Act’s entry into force enables the Minister of the Environment to deploy the BAPE on projects that could previously bypass it if “environmental issues that it can cause are major and that the concerns of the public justify it ” .
Citizens formed a mass mobilization effort in an attempt to demonstrate to the Minister the Authier mining prokect’s lack of social acceptability and therefore the need to submit it to the BAPE. Before Sayona Mining even submitted its environmental assessment, four scientific organizations, three environmental groups as well as the newly formed Citizen's Committee for the Protection of the Esker, called on Minister Isabelle Melançon to use her new powers. In January 2019, 32,041 people signed a petition to this effect which was recently forwarded to the new Minister of the Environment, Mr. Benoît Charette .
The three scientific organizations that analyzed the environmental study of the Authier project produced by Sayona Mining concludes that it lacks rigor, shows a lack of crucial information and was clearly written with an unwarranted sense of urgency. They unanimously reiterated the need for the project to be subject to the BAPE .
Within the municipality of La Motte, a municipality in Abitibi, Sayona Mining intentions caused a democratic and political crisis in the village. On July 9, 2018, at the express request of the mining company, but in the absence and without the knowledge of the mayor, the municipal councilors adopted a resolution in support of the Authier project  . By proceeding without first consulting their population, they went back on their commitment to neutrality and to wait until a possible citizens' assembly on the matter could be formed. In a few months, the mayor, who advocated values of protection of the territory and valued the importance of consulting his electorate, resigned . A new citizens' committee was created in the village, which, to date, managed to collect more than 150 signatures of fellow citizens wishing that the Authier project be submitted to the BAPE out of a population of 300 people able to vote.
Until September 18, 2018 Sayona Mining was ensuring that it was not considering any expansion scenario. Barely 6 days later in its final feasibility study, the company suddenly revealed that such a possibility could be considered  . Nothing legally prevents the company from directly encroaching on the esker since it has many claims that already overlap with it   However, the scientific organizations that studied the study mining location of Sayona Mining are alarmed by the aims of the multinational company since the lithium deposit is sinking under the esker.
Since emerging on the scene in February 2018, Sayona Mining has not simply ignored the population’s indisputable desire that the Authier project be submitted to the BAPE. Its spokesperson has belittled the concerns of the population by comparing their requests to “noise” on numerous occasions . Moreover, the company broke several of its public commitments, including that of holding public feedback meetings in September 2018 on comments and concerns raised by its activities. In October 2018, Sayona Mining went so far as to make a misleading speech in a public presentation, claiming that its project was the smallest in Quebec.
On December 20, 2018, Sayona Mining submitted its official request for a certificate of authorization to the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change. This triggered the three-month period granted to the Minister of the Environment to submit the Authier project to the BAPE.
Without delay, the Esker Citizen Protection Committee sent a request for access to information to the Minister of the Environment to obtain all the documents concerning the Authier project. It was only by analyzing confidential technical documents that the Citizen Committee ended up discovering that in reality, the project should already be considered as automatically subject to the BAPE since the daily ore extraction capacity exceeded the threshold of 2000 tonnes per day.
Based on this observation, the Citizen's Committee quickly sent a formal notice to the Minister of the Environment urging him to submit the project to the BAPE .
The Authier project was finally submitted to the BAPE in early March 2019, thanks to citizen mobilization and the threat of legal action against the Minister of the Environment.
More than two years later, the impact assessment for the project is still not complete, but the public expects the project to be submitted to the BAPE soon.
The company now seeks to present its project as “green” on two counts. First, they claim to operate on a supply of renewable hydroelectric power, minimizing their carbon footprint at the point of production. Second, the spodumene produced will contribute to batteries for electric vehicles, thus positioning their company as part of the needed energy transition. Alexis Segal, vice-president of corporate affairs at Sayona Quebec made the following statement to that effect: "Lithium is part of the solution to global warming. As you know, the growth in demand for lithium is around 35% per year and we currently have the opportunity to enter this market with a production of lithium ore which is more green than elsewhere in the world, because it will be made from hydroelectric energy ” . Moreover, the Quebec branch of the company has now teamed up with the Australian-born and American-flagged company, Piedmont Lithium . Sayona Quebec will supply Piedmont Lithium with the spodumene that will be transformed into lithium hydroxide to supply battery production for the company Tesla.
Sayona is now seeking to establish itself more widely in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region by pursuing two other controversial lithium mining projects: the relaunch of the North American Lithium mine and Tansim Lithium. This new ambition risks changing the configuration of the Authier Lithium project.