"The West’s Latest Mining Frenzy? Extraterrestrial Gold."

"Companies are hunting for lithium near Moab, Utah."

"White Oil, Oro Blanco, Extraterrestrial Gold: lithium, the lightweight element key to rechargeable batteries, has recently acquired a slew of hyperbolic nicknames. As the demand for electric cars, laptops and smartphones has surged, the search is on for more domestic sources of this energy-critical element.

There’s only one active lithium mine in the United States — in Nevada’s Clayton Valley — but several corporations have recently staked lithium claims in the Paradox Basin, a geological province spanning much of southeastern Utah and some of the neighboring states. Based on decades-old oil and gas well data, they’re rolling the dice on a classic mining gamble: What will the geology hold? Will historic numbers prove out? Even if they discover a high enough grade of lithium to be worth pursuing, a myriad of other challenges face companies trying to extract it and bring it to market.

With demand growing at a fast clip—driving the price of lithium from $4,000 per ton in 2014 to $20,000 now—a corporation that finds high-grade lithium and develops an efficient extraction process just might feel like it has hit gold. That might not happen in Utah. It might not happen in the U.S., where production costs are high, at all. But that’s not stopping the handful of companies hoping for a big strike in the sprawling sagebrush desert outside Moab."

Rebecca Worby reports for High Country News August 14, 2017.

Source: High Country News, 08/14/2017