Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Humboldt County, NV
In January 2021, the Bureau of Land Management issued a Record of Decision approving the Thacker Pass Mine. The mine was fast-tracked, meaning the decision for its approval along with the analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act for it, were completed on a much shorter time frame than is typical for the permitting of a mine in the United States. The company has failed to receive community consent for the project from the local communities. This quick analysis and decision for approval were made despite deep concerns from local communities, as well as an array of wildlife and other issues. The severe environmental impacts the project could have was not properly analyzed in the decision to permit the mine. For these reasons, Great Basin Resource Watch filed a lawsuit alongside the Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense on February 26th, 2021, over the Thacker Pass lithium mine. Our media release about the legal challenge can be found here, and the filing itself can be found here.
May 27th, 2021, we filed alongside our allies for a preliminary injunction in the Federal District Court in Reno, asking the court to prohibit construction of the Thacker Pass lithium mine. More information about the preliminary injunction can be found in the press release here.
Great Basin Resource Watch filed a lawsuit alongside the Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense has also filed a joint stipulation on June 8, 2021 agreeing to a revised legal briefing schedule for the preliminary injunction:
- Neither Lithium Nevada nor Federal Defendants will conduct any ground disturbance activities in the Project area in connection with the Thacker Pass Project as challenged in Plaintiffs’ Complaint before July 29, 2021.
- This agreement does not limit BLM’s authority to manage public lands in accordance with any authorizing statute or implementing regulation.
On March 7, 2022 Great Basin Resource Watch (GBRW) filed an appeal to the Nevada State Environmental Commission, challenging the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s Water Pollution Control Permit for the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine.
June 14, 2022 the Commission agreed with Lithium Nevada to strike the independent expert report provided by GBRW on the tailings facility.
GBRW was allowed until June 15 to respond to the Lithium Nevada motion to strike, but the decision to strike was made without entertaining GBRW’s response. The Commission has also restricted the hearing by not allowing any witness, so GBRW’s expert will not be able to testify. This is unlike the previous GBRW appeal on the Mt. Hope mine, so unexpected.
The hearing on the appeal was Tuesday June 28, the commission voted to deny the appeal by GBRW and uphold the Water Pollution Control Permit
January 5, 2023 – Federal hearing on the Thacker Pass combined cases was held in the Reno District Court
Our case (GBRW, Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense) cited significant deficiencies to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which violated the National Environmental Policy Act on and the Federal Land Policy Management Act, and requested the court vacate the mine permit. The EIS was one of the most poorly written that GBRW has seen in the past 20 years.
The Reno Sparks Indian Colony and Burns Paiute Tribes case focused on inadequate consultation and protection the cultural values at Thacker Pass known as Peehee Mu’huh to the Paiute Shoshone people. The fact that the special Indigenous significance of the area is not mentioned in the EIS points to inadequate consultation with the Indigenous communities.
Local rancher and farmer Edward Bartell’s case is summarized by Edward: “Bartell Ranch is the holder of a federal grazing permit, private ranch lands, and water rights that are imminently threatened with irreparable harm by the construction and operation of the Mine.”
February 6, 2023 – Judge Miranda Du issued her decision on the combined cases
The ruling did affirm that the Bureau of Land Managment did violate the law stating, “This in turn leads the Court to conclude that BLM’s approval of the Project violated FLPMA as it relates to the approximately 1300 acres of land Lithium Nevada intends to bury under waste rock because BLM did not first make a mining rights validity determination as to those land.” However, the coiurt did not vacate the federal mining permite as we requested.
Februrary 16, 2023 – Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summitt Lake Paiute Tribe, and Burns Paiute Ttribe file a new lawsuit
This case states that:
- BLM’s activities connected to plans for physical disturbance of Thacker Pass, pursuant to the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project Record of Decision and Plans of Operations; Thacker Pass Historic Properties Treatment Plan; Kings Valley Clay Mine Plan of Operations; Kings Valley Lithium Exploration Plan of Operations; the Quinn River Valley Test Wells Notice of Intent; and/or the Far East Notice of Intent, fail to comply with FLPMA, NHPA, and NEPA.
- BLM’s violations of FLPMA, NHPA, and NEPA were arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the procedures by law pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701 through 706.
- BLM failed to comply with FLPMA, NHPA, and NEPA, and that such failure constitutes agency action that is unreasonably delayed and/or unlawfully withheld as provided by the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(1).
February 21 2023 – Great Basin Resource Watch, Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense file an Emergency Motion.
The emergency motion is asking the court to enjoin the development of the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine until their case can be heard on appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Earlier this month, Judge Du ruled that the Bureau of Land Management broke the law in approving the mine, but the court’s order didn’t halt development of the enormous open pit mine. Today’s filing requests that the court block ground disturbance and construction until compliance with federal laws is assured.
February 27 2023 – Great Basin Resource Watch, Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense file an Emergency Motion to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Earlier in February 2023, environmental justice and conservation groups prevailed in Nevada District Court when the court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management broke the law in approving the mine, but the judge chose not to block development of the enormous open pit mine despite the unlawful decision. The same judge denied the environmental organizations’ request for emergency relief and allowed the mine to proceed, despite recognizing that the mining corporation would “unfortunately soon begin ripping out sagebrush that will not grow back for a very long time.” So now we are onto the Ninth circuit Court of Appeals to prevent damage to Thacker Pass before the environmental analysis can be done correctly and legally.
March 1 2023 – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Emergency Motion to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
June 16, 2022
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) adopts resolution entitled – Supporting Indigenous Safety through Opposing Man-Camps for Thacker Pass
September 8 2021
International Lithium Group Stands in Solidarity with Peehee mu’huh / Thacker Pass Communities
YLNM (Yes to Life No to Mining) Lithium Group stands in solidarity with the People of Red Mountain, the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, the agricultural communities within Orovada and Kings River Valley, and all people on the frontline facing harm from the Thacker Pass mine project. We demand that Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass–and the whole communities whose well-being are inextricably connected to it–not be sacrificed for alleged global warming mitigation against their will through the breaking of ground at the site. As the People of Red Mountain and members of the agricultural communities have articulated many times in many different forms, the construction and operation of the Thacker Pass lithium mine would cause irreparable harm to a culturally significant area/sacred site on traditional Paiute and Shoshone land, to agricultural livelihoods, and to individual and communal ways of life. YLNM lithium group comes from a variety of perspectives and lived experiences regarding the already-existing harms of lithium extraction on communities worldwide, and we stand in solidarity with the communities that would be affected by the Thacker Pass mine in asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to prevent ground-breaking operations and in demanding that affected communities be respected as holding complete right to withhold consent for the mine.
YLNM Lithium is an international working group of individuals from around the world who are directly facing the harms of lithium extraction or are a part of organizations working alongside these frontline affected communities. We constitute a solidarity network for sharing experiences, perspectives, knowledge, and resources among those affected by lithium extraction in many different places around the globe. We are currently made up of folks from Chile, Serbia, Portugal, Nevada, California, Australia, and Spain. We share a commitment towards advocating for the respect and well-being of all communities and ecosystems, peoples and other natural beings (non human others), facing lithium mines. We envision a transformation which is centered around and guided by the prioritization of community rights, needs, and well-being.
Sign-ons (From within YLNM network):
Organization: Salva la Selva; Name: Guadalupe Rodríguez; Location: Spai
Organization: Earth Thrive; Name: Zoe Lujic; Community: Zastitimo Jadar & Radjevinu; Location: UK/Serbia Serbia, Jadar & Radjevina
Organization: Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice- Decolonize4Climate; Locations: Mexico, California, Texas
Organization: Rettet den Regenwald/Rainforest Rescue; Name: Klaus Schenck; Location: Germany
Organization: Zaštitimo Jadar i Rađevinu/Protect Jadar & Radjevina; Name: Marija Alimpic; Location: Loznica, Serbia (opposing Rio Tinto’s lithium mine in Jadar, Western Serbia)
Organization: Denver Justice and Peace Committee (DJPC); Name: Rebeca Zuniga; Location: Denver, U.S
Organization: Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Andinos (OPSAL); Name: Ramón Morales Balcázar / Verónica Gostissa; Location: Chile, Argentina & Bolivia
Organization: Igapo Project; Name: Corinne Ferrarons; Location: France
Organization: Latin American Network of Women Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights; Name: Eva Vázquez; Location: Latin America
Organizations: OPSAL & Colectivo de DDHH Empodérate; Name: Vivian Lagrava; Location: Bolivia
Organizations: Agricultores Quebrada de Soncor & OPSAL ; Name: Rudecindo Espíndola Araya; Location: Chile
Organizations: OPSAL & Comunidad Colla de Copiapó; Name: Elena Rivera Cardoso; Location: Chile;
Name: Patricia Marconi; Location: Argentina; Organization: OPSAL and Fundación Yuchan;
Name: Bárbara Jerez Henríquez; Organization: OPSAL (Plurinational Observatory of Andean Salt Flats); Location: Chile
Name: Verónica Gostissa; Organization: OPSAL (Plurinational Observatory of Andean Salt Flats) ; Location: Argentina
Name: Jacqueline Quintana; Organization: OPSAL (Plurinational Observatory of Andean Salt Flats); Location: Chile
Name: Ingrid Garcés; Organization: OPSAL; Location: Chile
Name: Mirko Nikolić ; Postdoc, Institute for Culture & Society, Linköping UniversityLocation: Sweden/Serbia; E-mail: email@example.com
Name: Hannibal Rhoades; Beyond Extractivism Lead, The Gaia Foundation; Location: United Kingdom; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Organization: DECOIN; Name: Carlos Zorrilla; Location: Intag, Ecuador; Note: “From Ecuador’s cloud forests under threat of large-scale copper mining, we support your struggle”
Organization: Biofuelwatch; Name: Frances Howe and Gary Hughes; Location: UK/USA
Sign ons (beyond YLNM network):
Organization: MiningWatch Canada; Name: Jamie Kneen; Location: Canada
Organization: Great Basin Resource Watch; Name: John Hadder; Location: United States, Nevada
Organization: Environmental Assembly of the Jujuy Province ; Name: Nestor Omar Ruiz; Location: Jujuy, Argentina
Organization: European Network on Indigenous Peoples (ENIP); Name: Andy Whitmore ; Location: collective from various European countries
Organization: London Mining Network; Name: Richard Solly ; Location: London
Name: Dr. James J. A. Blair ; Location: Pomona, California, USA
Name: Cristián Flores Fernández ; IRI THESys & Geography Department at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Location: Berlin, Germany
Organization: Earthworks; Name: Raquel Dominguez; Location: United States
Organization: Human Rights and Environment ; Name: (Chairwoman) Sr. Patricia L. Ryan; Location: Puno, Peru
Organization: People & Planet; Name: J Clarke; Location/country: United Kingdom
About the Mine
The Thacker Pass project is a proposed lithium mine by Lithium Nevada Corp., located in Humboldt County just below the Montana Mountains (photo above features the proposed site placement, with small green mounds from the company’s activity in the foreground of the Montana Mountains). Lithium Nevada Corp. has plans for open pit mining as well as processing on site. It is estimated that the project will:
- disturb roughly 5,545 acres
- pump up to 3,250 gallons per minute of groundwater
- utilize 2,900 tons of acid per day at the on-site sulfuric acid plant
- produce several lithium products through an acid leach system
- lifetime of 41 years (could be extended with future expansion….which appears very possible, as the company holds a large number of other mining claims in the area)
Great Basin Resource Watch is primarily focused on ensuring accountability in the permitting of this lithium mine, making sure community concerns are addressed and sensitive areas in the region are protected. The Thacker Pass proposal comes in a time of many new attempts to mine materials, such as lithium, in Nevada to support renewable energy technology. Lithium Nevada planned all along to move through the permitting process quicker than is typical (known as streamlining) because of the presumed urgency of lithium required for these technologies. However, GBRW feels a commitment towards ensuring that communities’ concerns and desires are respected and that the protection of land, water, air, and ecosystems are still being prioritized, even in mining necessary for creation of “green technologies.” Thus, since Thacker Pass is in the first new wave of proposed lithium projects in Nevada and is streamlining for extraction of this green-tech material, GBRW understands the importance of monitoring the project and the precedent it is setting for how the influx of mining for these green-tech materials is done in the near future.
Beyond this, GBRW is also particularly focused on Thacker Pass for community support reasons–as it has become apparent that it is a controversial project that has failed to receive the affected communities’ consent and to properly consult with the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe.
We have actively been following the Thacker Pass mine through its federal permitting process and have submitted many comments on the technical aspects of the mine over the past year. This includes scoping comments and draft Environmental Impact Statement comments. The official scoping comments we submitted together can be accessed by selecting here. Our comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be accessed by selecting here.
Water and Air Although the 3,250 gallons per minute of groundwater that Lithium Nevada plans to pump for their operations is relatively small compared to other mines in the state (such as Long Canyon Gold Mine), it is a concern because both the Kings Valley and Quinn Valley water basins where the water will be pumped from appear to already be over-allocated. This means the amount of water granted for use in water rights is greater than the basin’s estimated ability to recharge. People in the ranching and farming communities in Orovada and Kings River Valley are very concerned that pumping caused by the mine would affect their domestic wells. In addition, potential pollution to both water and air from the processing facility were not thoroughly addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement.
Sensitive Wildlife Species There are serious concerns about the project affecting wildlife, particularly sage grouse, big horn sheep, pronghorn, golden eagles, Lahontan cutthroat trout, and an endemic spring snail species (the Kings River Pyrg). The area is vital habitat for these sensitive species, especially just north of the proposed mine area in the Montana Mountains (where there is potential for expansion later). Lithium Nevada did state publicly that the company has no plans to expand there. However, they and the parent company still hold mining claims all throughout the Montana Mountains, and the parent company Lithium Americas has not made any promises to avoid mining there. Furthermore, the community was also extremely concerned about an expansion into the Montana Mountains for various other reasons. Even if Lithium Americas does not expand into the Montana Mountains, the proposed site is very close to habitat that has been identified by the Nevada Department of Wildlife as significant for sage grouse in the state. Although Lithium Nevada has spoken about plans for sagebrush restoration to help mitigate the affect on sage grouse, the mine operations will sever an area that has been identified as priority habitat for the sage grouse, which could be absolutely devastating to that population as a whole and their ability to survive. The mine would fragment “essential irreplaceable habitat” for sage-grouse in already vulnerable populations, by allowing destructive development in sage-grouse habitats that exceeds limits established in the Resource Management Plan.
Inadequate Public Process and Lack of Community Consent There has been clear lack of community consent for the mine from both members of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe and from the agricultural communities of Orovada and Kings River Valley. Many people at the February 2020 public meeting in Orovada (and subsequent public processes in the past year) were unclear on the proposal, stated the project had changed too many times, and expressed mistrust towards Lithium Nevada. Meaningful public comment cannot occur if the project is not well understood. People also felt as though there was not enough time for making comments. Compounding this is the fact that both the company and the BLM have streamlined the permitting process. Lithium Nevada is quick to state how important it is to get lithium production started rapidly in order to meet expected demands–but such speed should not come at the cost of the public process or community consent.
Inadequate Tribal Consultation
The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe was not adequately consulted during the official Environmental Impact Statement process for the Thacker Pass mine, and major concerns have been raised about cultural resources and improper consultation since the Record of Decision.
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 requires identification and mitigation of cultural 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 reached out to for consultation.
Despite the startlingly large number of cultural resources that will be affected and the fact that the proposed mine site is in the spot of a massacre of Paiute people, the mining company and government have severely failed in consultation and obtaining Free, Prior, and Informed consent of the affected Tribes. The actions that Lithium Nevada plans to take on-site as soon as June 23rd, 2021, could include removal of significant cultural artifacts on land which is culturally significant to the Paiute people, and such actions by the company are in violation of the will of many Fort McDermitt tribal members. The Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu — People of Red Mountain — are 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 mining projects like Thacker Pass. Their statement of opposition to the Thacker Pass mine, as well as their articulation of the cultural significance of the area, can be found here.
Community Voices From Thacker Pass
Orovada and Kings River Valley community members commenting in the Environmental Impact Statement process about impacts to their quality of life and asking that their well-being and lives be considered in decisions about the mine:
-“We live and work in this community and are greatly concerned that the impact this mine will have will affect our way of life here forever. We urge you to consider the impacts on our community when making your decisions” -“depletion of our water tables will impact vegetation and therefore the livelihoods of many of our customers and neighbors”
-“the quality of life we enjoy as property owners, the fragile ecosystem, air and water quality will be damaged, and the beauty here will be ruined forever. Please do not allow this to happen”
Farmer talking about affects to biodiversity and the unique biological and ecological makeup of the area, as well as their dependence upon it for their own wellbeing: “of the pollinators in north Humboldt County, nearly 70% are ground dwellers. We have 6 species of bumble bees, mason bees, several types of Leaf Cutter Bees, Ground Bees of all sorts and hundreds of beneficial insects essential to raising our crops such as Big Eye Bugs, Lacewings, Lady Beetles, Wasps, Hornets and Praying Mantis that live in the Thacker area! They are irreplaceable.”
Community member concerned about toxicity and pollution of water table: “Already the rest of the world acts like northern Nevada is just a dumping site for their crap”
Resident expressing the lack of care for their community and the ecosystem by foreign mining company: “when all’s said and done, they go back to Canada, and Kings River is left in ruins. They won’t bring back the springs or ponds that are dried up, or the rock formations that will be blasted away, the wildlife that has left the area because of all the activity going on in and around the mine. We won’t recognize Thacker Pass when they are done”
Call for focusing on recycling before new extraction: “it is the most dirty way to produce green energy” “Green energy should not prop up a wasteful lifestyle. There should be more effort given to Lithium recycling”
Resident of Kings River Valley expressing frustrating over fast-tracking of the project: “all of a sudden the BLM seems to be in a hurry to get the EIS done for NLC”
Incredibly powerful quote from one of the resident closest to the proposed mine: “NLC’s claim that there are no residential areas within 19 miles of the mine, my home is approximately 7 miles from the mine site, and there are homes closer than mine. NLC has categorized our farming and ranching community as industrial, while we do have equipment on our farms and ranches, we also have families, grandchildren we are raising here in the ‘industrial area’.” “Kings River Valley is one of the most pictureque places in the state. It will be desecrated by NLC, when alll’s said and done, they go back to Canada, and Kings River is left in ruins. They won’t bring back the springs or pond that are dried up, or the rock formations that will be blasted away, the wildlife that has left the area because of all the activity going on in and around the mine. We won’t recognize Thacker Pass when they are done. Our community feels like they don’t have a voice in this matter, ‘it’s progress and growth, you can’t stop it’, well maybe so, but I at least am going to go down screaming”
Community members talking about mistrust of the company and the community’s mistreatment by the company:
-this “mine will devestate the rural lifestyle of all the residents of Orovada and Kings River Valley. I don’t believe the processing of this mineral is as safe as we are being told it is.”
-“credibiliity with me is lacking. And let me be clear, public trust is an important and substantive issue”
-“we understand that a groundwater model has been used to estimate the extent and magnitude of impacts, however the number of data points and duration of data collection makes the long-term conclusions suspect”
-“the COVID pandemic has made it extremely difficult for the public to participate in this scoping process”
-“The mine will have substantial direct financial impacts to my family by likely drying up springs, and dropping water tables under our private lands, which we rely on for water and forage for our cattle. They will backfill the mine with crushed waste rock that is naturally contaminated with toxins, which have a high probability of leaching into groundwater. The mine plans on burning massive amounts of sulfur 680,000 tons a year, in order to create sulfuric acid.”
Residents during a virtual community meeting with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection:
-“a lot of us feel like this is not an appropriate project or an appropriate place for this project. But we are in a regulatory box where we need to comply with these particular requirements and not with what is reasonable to us in our minds.” -“the explanations that were given to us, none of them involved what the risks to us are.”
Residents during a “Thacker Pass Concerned Citizens” community meeting:
-“how are they going to compensate for unintended consequences of their actions? If a disaster happens, how are they going to rectify that to the community? Because they never put anything in writing. If something tragic happens, how are they going to address it?” -“if they are going to come in and change the way my whole community looks…I’m not going to stand here when someone comes in with a vague plan to change my way of life and not have a voice in it. I want to be able to live with it [the consequences of the mine], that’s my problem. It’s my home. I was born here. It’s where I was raised. I want to raise my kids here.” -[on concerns about water quality] “We need an initial test on that; you can’t test after they’ve started” • [on concerns about expansion] “we want to get in writing that they won’t extend the life of the mine” -“they’re going to take agriculture’s water, and it will never go back to agriculture”
PDF of community voices quote collage from over the past year and a half can be downloaded here.
Great Basin Resource Watch, One Source Network, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and Patagonia hosted a webinar centered around Thacker Pass community voices on May 13th, 2021. A recording of the webinar can be found here.
Some community concerns are also written about in our blog post from the public scoping meeting that was held in Orovada in early February 2020. If you are interested in hearing specifics, you can do so in the blog post here (following this link). More in-depth community concerns and perspective can be found in the sections below as well.
Public Process Hindered in Mine Permitting during COVID-19 Pandemic
Great Basin Resource Watch is additionally concerned about the ways the public process has been hindered in permitting for the Thacker Pass site–especially considering how controversial the proposed project is and the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is impeding on the community’s ability to meet and deliberate about it. Throughout Nevada, COVID-19 has understandably made it nearly impossible for many community members to come together to discuss their concerns and perspectives, as well as share information with one another, on proposed mine projects. If people do not have the ability to come together to have these conversations and arrive at a collective understanding of a proposed mine, it is nearly impossible for a project to acquire meaningful community consent. Furthermore, accessing the technical documents needed for understanding a proposed mine project and its impacts can be difficult for people, especially in rural areas, who do not have consistent internet to locate these documents electronically and who, because of COVID, can no longer go in person to access this information. In these ways, the current pandemic has put many people and communities in positions where they cannot fairly give their consent for projects. Despite this, the permitting for many mine projects–including Thacker Pass–are continuing as usual.
Because of our deep concern about this, we sent a letter to the state director of the BLM about the ways the public process is being hindered and requesting that the process be delayed until the community members are able to meet and meaningfully deliberate about the project. The letter can be found here. If you would like to also send a letter about this, you are more than welcome to borrow any part of ours that is useful.
To stay updated about Thacker Pass and other major work we are doing, please join Great Basin Resource Watch’s mailing list. To do so, just email email@example.com with “mailing list” in the subject line. For any additional information or technical documents, also feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .
Background on GBRW views of the Tailings facility
Despite some constraints imposed by the state of Nevada, under the state permit Lithium Nevada Corp will be allowed to dump at least 60 million tons of wet acidic mine tailings on Nevada’s landscape, and this will likely increase to 300 million tons with later permit modifications. Any water draining from the tailings is expected to be very toxic, so the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) will require an HDPE (high density polyethylene) under the tailings dump – called a clay filtered tailings stack (CTFS). The agency considers the HDPE liner to satisfy containment criterion in the regulations.
GBRW became concerned that the analysis and tailings facility design might not be adequate, and in an email from November of 2021 GBRW asked NDEP a number of questions regarding the tailings facility. Unsatisfied with the responses from NDEP, GBRW saw it necessary to obtain independent expert analysis of the tailings facility.
GBRW informed NDEP that an independent expert analysis was underway in a letter from January 27, 2022, and offered to discuss the tailings facility with our independent expert, Dr. Steve Emerman. GBRW also requested that the NDEP wait for the report to be completed, which was on April 7, 2022, before issuing the final permit. NDEP rejected both of these and issued its decision and the final permit on February 25, 2022.
Dr. Emerman was chosen based on his work on tailings safety analysis as a coauthor of the recently released, “Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management.” Dr. Emerman critically reviewed the existing tailings analysis and estimated seepage from the tailings over a range of field parameters that were not explored by Lithium Nevada Corp nor NDEP. His report. “Prediction of Seepage from the Clay Tailings Filter Stack (CTFS) at the Lithium Nevada Thacker Pass Mine, Northern Nevada,” is available online.
The GBRW appeal is raising the following issues with the permit pertaining to the tailings facility (dump):
There is no requirement for all of the tailings to be neutralized. In response to public comment the state of Nevada stated, “… NDEP agrees that neutralization of all tailings material prior to filtration is a more benign option…” The agency claims that it does not have authority to require neutralization, and that, “…CTFS is designed in accordance with the applicable regulations and will be constructed as a zero-discharge facility.” GBRW argues that Nevada regulations (NAC 445A.433 Minimum design criteria: Universal requirements; areas where groundwater is near surface) can require NDEP to neutralize the tailings which states: “All sources must be designed to minimize releases of contaminants into groundwaters or subsurface migration pathways so that any release from the facility will not degrade waters of the State.” Neutralization is needed to minimize releases.
The permit is based on incorrect and incomplete analysis. Lithium Nevada Corp contracted with two consulting firms (NewFields and Piteau) on the tailings facility. However, the calculated rate of seepage from the tailings was significantly different from these two firms with NewFields determining a maximum seepage rate of 74 gallons per minute and Piteau’s results were 0.02 gallons per minute and not for 1,000 years. GBRW asked NDEP to resolve these very disparate results and determine how the rate of seepage could change under varying field conditions. Neither of these was adequately addressed, and NDEP relied on the results from both firms despite the contradictory results. Overall, the full range of variation of field parameters was not explored, so seepage could be significantly different than expected in the permit. Notably, the final permit has a number of requirement for additional studies including tailings neutralization and seepage. Therefore, NDEP does recognize that more analysis is needed, but issued the permit anyway.
According to Dr. Emerman, the analysis by Piteau should be rejected because: (1) it did not include the the “key feature of tailings consolidation, according to which underlying tailings would be further compacted by the weight of overlying tailings, potentially leading to resaturation of the base of the CTFS,” (2) “the assertion by Piteau Associates that no seepage could occur until the bottom tailings were saturated is inconsistent with soil physics.”
The permit requires a tailings water content that has not been demonstrated as achievable. The permit requires a tailings moisture content of 46%, which is expected only to be achievable through air drying. There has been no analysis and experiments to simulate field conditions for the drying process, so it is unknown how this method will will process, nor is there a plan if the drying process takes longer than expected. Moisture content greater than 46% could result is much greater seepage and loss of stability of the tailings facility.
Credible data and analysis exist that the design specifications of the tailings facility including the seepage management is inadequate. GBRW had an independent tailings expert, Dr. Steve Emerman, review the existing reports and calculate seepage from the tailings by varying fields conditions not explored in the reports used by NDEP. According to Dr. Emerman’s analysis seepage could be significantly greater (hundreds to thousands of gallons per minute) than expected in the permit, maximum of 74 gallons per minute. Thus, beyond the design capacity of the tailings facility resulting in a failure to management toxic drainage.
Ultimately, the consequences of inadequate design and planning could be significantly more seepage than can be handled resulting in overflow of highly toxic fluid, and even a collapse of tailings facility, which could include catastrophic failure releasing the toxic tailings to the environment.
Dr. Emerman’s review revealed fatal shortcomings in the tailings analysis provided by Lithium Nevada to NDEP and the public. Dr. Emerman states in his report:
“Unlike nearly every other mining project, Lithium Nevada does not appear to have any preplanned actions ready for execution in the event of adverse observations, such as unanticipated seepage from the CTFS, nor does NDEP require them to have such preplanned actions. Instead, there are only intentions to carry out more analyses.”
“The plan for the filtered tailings storage facility at the Thacker Pass mine fulfills all of the characteristics of Reckless Creativity. This does not mean no version of the proposed tailings facility could ever be permitted, but this plan should not be permitted at this place at this time.”
“Reckless Creativity has one or more of the following characteristics:
1) There is no scaffolding, meaning that the new innovation does not build upon previous innovations through a series of intermediate steps with proper testing and verification of each step.
2) One or more of the technologies required to carry out the innovation does not currently exist.
3) Predictions are based upon single input values or best-case scenarios without considering the range of possible inputs.
4) Although potential problems are recognized, they are quickly dismissed as irrelevant without justification.
5) Basic precautions are not taken that would be routine for previous innovations.
6) There is no consideration of the consequences of being wrong, that is, of the consequences of failure.”
If you have any questions, please reach out to John Hadder – 775-348-1986 (firstname.lastname@example.org)