NASA opposes lithium mining at tabletop flat Nevada desert web site used to calibrate satellites

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Environmentalists, ranchers and others have battled lithium mining projects in Nevada for years. But opposition to mining a particular area of ​​desert to extract the silver-white metal used in electric car batteries comes from an unlikely place: outer space.

An ancient lake bed in Nevada beckons as a vast source of the coveted metal needed to generate clean electrical energy and fight global warming. But NASA says the same location — flat as a tabletop and undisturbed like no other in the western hemisphere — is essential for calibrating the crisp measurements from hundreds of satellites orbiting overhead.

At the request of the Space Agency, the US Bureau of Land Management has agreed to remove 36 square miles (92 square kilometers) of eastern Nevada Territory from its inventory of federal lands open for potential mineral exploration and mining.

According to NASA, the long, flat stretch of land above the undeveloped lithium deposit in Nevada’s Railroad Valley has been used for almost three decades to get just the right measurements to keep satellites and their applications working properly.

“No other site in the United States is suitable for this purpose,” the Bureau of Land Management concluded in April after receiving NASA’s information on the area 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas.

The bureau has spent nearly three years fighting mining challenges of all kinds from environmentalists, tribal leaders, ranchers and others seeking to de-permit a massive lithium mine in northwestern Nevada near the Oregon Line.

In December, the bureau initiated a review of plans for another lithium mine that conservationists oppose near the California border, where an endangered desert wildflower grows, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) southeast of Reno.

In Railroad Valley, satellite computations are critical for capturing information broadcast from space, with wide-ranging applications ranging from weather forecasting to national security to agricultural prospects and natural disasters, according to NASA, which said the satellites are “vital and often time-sensitive provide information on each aspect”. of life on earth.”

This increasingly includes the certification of measurements related to climate change.

Critics say this is the Nevada desert paradox. While lithium is the main ingredient in electric vehicle batteries and is a key contributor to reducing greenhouse gases, in this case the metal is buried underground. NASA says it needs to be left undisturbed to confirm the accuracy of satellites that monitor Earth’s warming atmosphere.

“As our country becomes increasingly impacted by an evolving and changing environment, it is critical to have reliable and accurate data and images of our planet,” said Mark Moneza of Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based technology company Satellite imaging that has relied on NASA site to calibrate more than 250 of its satellites since 2016.

A Nevada congressman introduced legislation earlier this month aimed at overturning the bureau’s decision to remove the land from potential mining use. Republican Representative Mark Amodei told a House subcommittee last week that the decision underscored the “hypocrisy” of President Joe Biden’s administration.

“Supposedly, a goal of the Biden administration is to advance the development of renewable energy technologies and reduce the carbon content in our atmosphere,” Amodei said. “Nevertheless, they support blocking a project to develop the lithium needed for their clean energy goals.”

Carson City, Nevada-based 3 Proton Lithium Inc., which owns most of the mining claims, had no formal project plans in 2021 when NASA requested the land withdrawal. However, the company said it was conducting extensive research into future plans to mine the brine-based lithium resource, which it said is one of the top 10 deposits in the world.

Chief Executive Kevin Moore said withdrawing from the area will likely prevent his energy company from pumping the “supersoles” out of about a third of its claims there, including the deepest and highest-producing reservoirs, which account for about 60% of the site’s value. Along with Amodei, he testified before the House Subcommittee on Mines and Natural Resources last week.

“This project is an integral part of transitioning to a green economy, creating high-paying American jobs, fighting climate change, ending America’s over-reliance on foreign adversaries, and securing a domestic supply chain for critical and rare earth elements,” Moore said .

Other opponents of the BLM push include James Ingraffia, founder of energy exploration company Lithium Arrow LLC. In previous public comments, he told the bureau that erecting barriers to lithium mining in Railroad Valley would undermine efforts to combat climate change.

“Basically what you’re doing is, ‘There is a problem that we want to continue to worry about, but we WILL NOT allow it to be solved,'” he said. “It’s contradictory.”

3 Proton Lithium insists its brine pumping operations would cause little to no land-surface disturbance. But NASA doesn’t think the risk is worth it.

The pristine nature of the area has enabled NASA to create a long record of images of the undisturbed topography to aid in the precise measurement of distances using radio signal propagation times and to ensure “absolute radiometric calibration” of sensors on board satellites.

“Activities that could affect the surface integrity of Railroad Valley would render the site unusable,” Jeremy Eggers, spokesman for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told The Associated Press.

“The final decision was to protect Railroad Valley, which in turn protects the critical scientific data that multiple sectors of the economy depend on,” he said in an email Thursday.

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