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Thacker Pass lithium mine, Nevada, USA


Description:

The Thacker Pass Lithium Mine is a proposed mine in Northwestern Nevada, United States of America, by the company Lithium Nevada, a subsidiary of Lithium Americas. It is expected to destroy critical wildlife habitat, cause groundwater contamination anticipated to persist in excess of 300 years if not actively treated indefinitely, draw roughly 9% of the available water in a basin with no water to spare, disrupt the nearby agricultural community's ability to carry out their livelihoods, and destroy a significant cultural area/sacred site of the Paiute [1] [12].

The mine was fast-tracked, meaning it took much less time to go through the permitting process by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (and consequently was less thoroughly analyzed for the impacts it would have on the ecosystem and nearby communities). This is likely due to the global push of urgency for renewable energy technologies and from Former President Donald Trump’s Executive Order that streamlined the permitting of minerals in the United States[1] [2] [4]. Protesters have been occupying the site since the Bureau of Land Management issued its final record of decision for the mine [4]. According to protesters, Bureau of Land Management violated at least five provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act (section 106), including adequately consulting with tribes about the mine project [12]. 

Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) are a group of Fort McDermitt tribal descendants that deeply oppose the Lithium mine. Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu continue to practice traditions, language, hunting and gathering of first foods, medicines, and materials, knowledge and teaching. For them, ceremonies, culture and philosophy are inseparable from the land. Thus, by protecting the land, they protect culture. In addition, Peehee Mu'huh has sacred burial sites with utmost respect for Koodakuh wyh Nuwu [12] [13].

The affected agricultural communities are generally concerned with many outright opposed to the project since the very early stages. Despite these deep and evident community concerns, the mine was still rushed through permitting during the COVID-19 pandemic when many of these directly affected individuals were unable to access or participate in person in the public processes typically required for permitting. Therefore, it was permitted despite clear and strong opposition from the local, rural, agricultural communities of Orovada and Kings River Valley and in a manner unacceptable and not aligned with the intent of the National Environmental Policy Act [1] [2]. 

Furthermore, the mine was permitted without proper consultation or consent from the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and other potentially affected Tribes. The “treatment plan” for cultural mitigation of sites was developed without consulting the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, which is in violation of Fort McDermitt’s rights under Section 106 that require identification and mitigation of sites to involve the affected Tribe/s.

Additionally, there are at least two other Tribes in the region who could be affected by the mine’s operations and still have not been contacted for consultation. Despite the startlingly large number of cultural resources scheduled for removal and the fact that the proposed mine site is in the spot of a massacre of Paiute people, the company and government have severely failed in proper consultation and have not gained the Free, Prior, and Informed consent for the mine. Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu – a group of tribal descendants from the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe who want to collectively stand up against destruction of land, water, air and life on ancestral homelands such as Thacker Pass – have formed in recent months in strong opposition to the mine [1] [4]. 

 Although the mining company touts the project’s importance to the energy transition and economy, people in the directly affected agricultural community do not feel they will reap any of these benefits themselves. In fact, many feel strongly that the mine will be a detriment to them economically because the pollution and drop in water table could deeply harm their ability to continue their current livelihood of farming and ranching. Furthermore, Lithium Nevada has advertised and displayed the mine as “green” because they are mining for lithium [1]. However, the pollution to air through the sulfuric acid production plant and other mine operations and water (possibly intergenerationally polluted), and the direct harm it will have on the area’s wildlife, are severe.  

After the Record of Decision was signed by the Bureau of Land Management approving the Thacker Pass mine in January 2021, many forms of grassroots resistance to the mine began [1] [3]. Protesters started an encampment at the site of the mine, sharing rhetoric and intent to stop its construction with direct action. A coalition of environmental and public interest organizations (Great Basin Resource Watch, Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense) filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the mine’s Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on February 26th, 2021. A local rancher also filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the mine and personal harm he will experience from it [6] [7]. In April 2021, the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe cancelled their Project Engagement Agreement with mining company Lithium Nevada, citing threats to land, water, wildlife, hunting and gathering areas, and sacred sites. Around that time, Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu traditionalists group formed out of descendants from the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe, and the Thacker Pass Concerned Citizens group, formed out of the agricultural communities in Kings River Valley, Orovada, and the surrounding areas [2].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Thacker Pass lithium mine, Nevada, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Nevada
Location of conflict:Orovada, Humboldt County
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Land
Lithium

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The leased area, at that time, included the entirety of the mineralized zones in Thacker Pass and the Montana Mountains with a total of 1,378 claims that covered more than 11,000 ha.

The Thacker Pass Project area now encompasses approximately 3,367 ha including:

An open pit which would be roughly one mile across (1.6 km), two miles wide (3.2 km) and 120m maximum depth.

A processing plant using 2,900 tons of sulfuric acid per day to convert molten sulfur into sulfuric acid to leach the lithium from clay stone.

Hundreds of tons of Sulfur (waste from Oil Refineries) will be trucked in and burned every day at the mine site (roughly 75 semi loads of sulfur a day). This in turn will produce thousands of tons of Sulfuric acid every day, up to 5800 tons a day.

The project contemplates initial Phase 1 production capacity of 30,000 tpa of battery-grade Li2CO3 (lithium carbonate equivalent) commencing in 2022 and increasing in Phase 2 to 60,000 tpa in 2026.

Lithium is present at 2000-9000 ppm (0.2-0.9%) Producing one ton of lithium will require strip mining and processing between ~110 and 500 tons of Earth.

Mineral reserve: 3.1 million tonnes of LCE at 3,283 ppm Li

Lifetime of 41 years (could be extended with future expansion, as the company holds a large number of other mining claims in the area)

The mine would burn around 11,300 gallons of diesel fuel per day.

Plans to extract more than 5000 acre-feet (1.7 billion gallons) of water annually from an aquifer in the Quinn River Valley which is already over-allocated by more than 30,000 acre-feet per year.

The company estimates that, when the mine is fully-operational, it will produce 152,703 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions every year.

[5] [14] [15]

Project area:3367
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,059,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:10/01/2021
Company names or state enterprises:Lithium Nevada Corporation from United States of America
Lithium Americas from Canada
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:People of Red Mountain = Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu
Protect Thacker Pass: https://www.protectthackerpass.org/
Great Basin Resource Watch (GBRW): https://gbrw.org/
Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada:
​​https://planevada.org/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu. Paiute. Shoshone.
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Bureau of Land Management approved the mine and protestors are still occupying the site [4]. Thacker Pass lithium project is a world-class lithium project being developed in Humboldt County, Nevada, US. Set to be the biggest lithium deposit in the US, Thacker Pass is being developed by Lithium Nevada, a fully-owned subsidiary of Lithium Americas (LAC). It is expected to have a mine life of 46 years.[16]

Sources & Materials

[1] Sierra Nevada Ally 2021: Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribal members protest Thacker Pass lithium mine
http://www.sierranevadaally.org/2021/04/08/fort-mcdermitt-paiute-shoshone-tribal-members-protest-thacker-pass-lithium-mine/

[2] PTP 2021: Press Release: Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe Cancels Agreement with Lithium Mine, Promising Lawsuit
https://www.protectthackerpass.org/press-release-fort-mcdermitt-paiute-shoshone-tribe-cancels-agreement-with-lithium-mine-promising-lawsuit/

[3] Reno Gazzete Journal 2021: Photos: Hundreds gather in Reno to protest the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine
https://eu.rgj.com/picture-gallery/news/2021/06/13/hundreds-gather-protest-proposed-thacker-pass-lithium-mine/7674228002/

[4] Deseret News 2021: The rise of electric vehicles is disrupting life in a small Western community
https://www.deseret.com/indepth/2021/4/6/22345917/lithium-mines-electric-vehicles-disrupting-life-in-one-small-nevada-community-elon-musk-thacker-pass

[5] Great Basin Resource Watch 2021: Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Humboldt County, NV
https://gbrw.org/proposed-thacker-pass-lithium-mine/

[6] OPB 2021: Judge hears fight over lithium mine on Nevada-Oregon line
https://www.opb.org/article/2021/07/21/judge-hears-fight-over-lithium-mine-on-nevada-oregon-line/

[7] Mining Journal 2021: Digging delayed at Thacker Pass as protestors hit Reno
https://www.mining-journal.com/politics/news/1411899/protests-over-thacker-pass-as-dushnisky-joins-lithium-americas

[8] This is Reno 2021: Judge to decide on injunction request to halt work on Thacker Pass lithium mine
https://thisisreno.com/2021/07/judge-to-decide-on-injunction-request-to-halt-work-on-thacker-pass-lithium-mine/

[9] Earth Island Journal 2021: “Let’s Not Blow Up a Mountain and Call It Green
https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/lets-not-blow-up-a-mountain-and-call-it-green-thacker-pass-lithium/

[10] Native News Online: Lithium Mining Proposal in Northern Nevada Threatens Paiute and Shoshone Land
https://nativenewsonline.net/sovereignty/lithium-mining-proposal-in-northern-nevada-threatens-paiute-and-shoshone-land

[11] New York Times 2021: The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/06/business/lithium-mining-race.html

[12] Eugene Community Newswire 2021: Native American groups seek to preserve traditional sites threatened by lithium mine
https://newswire.kepw.org/2021/07/26/native-american-groups-seek-to-preserve-traditional-sites-threatened-by-lithium-mine/

[13] People of Red Mountain - Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu
https://www.gofundme.com/f/j2gx7f-people-of-red-mountain

[14] Lithium Americas; Thacker Pass Project
https://www.lithiumamericas.com/thacker-pass/

[15] Lithium Americas; Technical Report on the PreFeasibility Study for the Thacker Pass Project, Humboldt County, Nevada, USA; August 2018;
https://www.lithiumamericas.com/_resources/pdf/investors/technical-reports/thacker-pass/Technical-Report-Thacker-Pass.pdf

Opinion: Our ancestors' burial site is no place for a mine | Gary McKinney

Gary McKinney | Reno Gazette Journal
https://eu.rgj.com/story/opinion/voices/2022/03/21/opinion-our-ancestors-burial-site-no-place-mine-gary-mckinney/7121542001/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[16] 26 July 2021. Mining Technology. US judge allows Lithium Americas to start Thacker Pass excavation.
https://www.mining-technology.com/news/lithium-americas-start-thacker-pass/

Meta information

Contributor:John Hadder, [email protected], Chelsey Hand, [email protected] / Great Basin Resource Watch; Ksenija Hanacek ENVJUST, ICTA-UAB
Last update02/08/2021
Conflict ID:5605

Images

 

Proposed site in Nevada for lithium mining

Source: Eugene Community Newswire via Protect Thacker Pass Facebook page

Protest

Source: Eugene Community Newswire via Eharon Colman

Protest

Source: Reno Gazzete Journal 2021