Reno, Nevada — Environmental activists, ranchers and others have battled Nevada’s lithium mining operations for years. But the opposition to mining certain desert areas for the silvery-white metal used in electric car batteries comes from the unusual realm of space.
The ancient Nevada lake bed beckons as a vast source of the coveted metals needed to generate cleaner electrical energy and combat global warming. But NASA requires the same tabletop, undisturbed location unlike any other in the Western Hemisphere to calibrate the extremely sharp measurements of hundreds of satellites orbiting above. is essential.
At the request of the Space Agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has agreed to remove 36 square miles (92 square kilometers) of eastern Nevada terrain from its inventory of federal land for potential mineral exploration and mining.
According to NASA, a long, flat stretch of land above an undeveloped lithium deposit in Nevada’s Railroad Valley is a critical area for satellites and their applications to obtain adequate readings to keep them functioning properly. has been used for nearly 30 years.
Following a NASA opinion on an area 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas, the Bureau of Land Management concluded in April that “nowhere else in the United States is suitable for this purpose.”
For nearly three years, the agency has battled all kinds of mining challenges by environmentalists, tribal leaders, ranchers and others seeking to subvert mining permit approvals. Massive Lithium Mine Under Construction in Northwest Nevada Near the Oregon line.
In December, the agency began reviewing plans for another lithium mine near the California line that has been opposed by conservationists. Endangered desert wildflowers growabout 230 miles (370 km) southeast of Reno.
According to NASA, in the Railroad Valley, satellite computing is essential for gathering information transmitted from space, with applications ranging from weather forecasting to national security, agricultural forecasting and natural disasters. , satellites “provide important and often time-critical information on all aspects.” about life on earth. ”
Increasingly, it also includes the certification of measurements related to climate change.
Critics say this is the paradox of the Nevada desert. Lithium is the main ingredient in electric car batteries, which is key to reducing greenhouse gases, but in this case, the metal is buried under land, and it would take a long time to prove the accuracy of satellites monitoring the global warming atmosphere. NASA says it should be left alone.
“Our nation is more impacted than ever by an evolving and changing environment, so it’s important to have reliable and accurate data and imagery of our planet,” said San Francisco-based Satellite Imagery. Mark Moneza of the company Planet Labs said. His NASA site has calibrated over 250 satellites since 2016.
Nevada legislators introduced a bill earlier this month seeking to reverse the agency’s decision to withdraw land from potential mining uses. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei told a House subcommittee last week that the decision highlighted the “hypocrisy” of President Joe Biden’s administration.
“It appears to be a goal of the Biden administration to accelerate the development of renewable energy technologies and reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” Amodei said. “They still support blocking lithium development projects needed for clean energy goals.”
3Proton Lithium, the Carson City, Nevada company that owns most of the mining rights, did not submit a formal project plan in 2021 when NASA requested that the land be withdrawn. But the company claimed to have conducted extensive research in anticipation of future plans to mine a saltwater-based lithium resource, one of the world’s top ten deposits.
Chairman Kevin Moore said withdrawing from the area would allow his energy company to ditch about a third of its ownership there, including the deepest and richest deposits holding about 60% of the site’s value. It will likely not be able to pump “super-salt water,” he said. He testified with Amodei before the House Subcommittee on Mining and Mineral Resources last week.
“This project is a critical part of transitioning to a green economy, creating high-paying jobs for the United States, combating climate change, ending America’s overdependence on foreign enemies, and securing domestic supply chains for critical rare earth minerals. is,” Moore said.
Other opponents of the BLM move include James Ingrafia, founder of energy exploration firm Lithium Arrow LLC. In previous public comments, he told the agency that he was undermining efforts to fight climate change by creating roadblocks to lithium mining in the Railroad Valley.
“Essentially, your action is to say, ‘We want to keep worrying, but there are problems we are not allowed to solve.’ That is a self-contradiction,” he said.
3 Proton Lithium claims its brine pumping operations cause little disruption to the surface. But NASA doesn’t think it’s worth the risk.
Due to the region’s unvarying nature, NASA uses turbulence to support accurate distance measurements using time-of-arrival of radio signals and to ensure “absolute radiation calibration” of sensors on board satellites. We were able to establish a long-term record of topographical imagery that has not.
Jeremy Eggers, spokesman for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told The Associated Press: “Activities that disrupt the surface integrity of the Railroad Valley would render the site unusable. There is a danger of doing so,” he said.
“The ultimate decision is to protect the Railroad Valley, which also protects critical scientific data that multiple sectors of the economy rely on,” he said in an email Thursday.