World’s Largest Lithium Deposit Discovered Along Nevada-Oregon Border
Geologists believe they have stumbled upon the world’s largest lithium deposit within the McDermitt caldera, a massive depression formed by Yellowstone millions of years ago. While the confirmation of the mineral volumes is still in progress, it is estimated that up to 40 million metric tons of lithium may be concealed beneath the caldera, surpassing Bolivia’s 23 million-metric-ton salt flats. However, discussions about mining in this area are already tense, given McDermitt’s indigenous history.
The mineral composition of the McDermitt caldera was initially explored by Chevron Minerals Inc., a subsidiary of Chevron, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After detecting lithium-rich sediments in the western region of the caldera, Chevron enlisted the services of the US Geological Survey, which gradually expanded its exploration northward. By 2011, a mining company, now known as Lithium Nevada Corp., had leveraged the US Geological Survey’s research by drilling over 200 holes at Thacker Pass, the most accessible lithium deposit within the McDermitt caldera.
The demand for lithium has surged, primarily due to the growing electric vehicle market and associated government incentives. Consequently, mining companies are more determined than ever to discover larger and newer lithium deposits, and Lithium Nevada is no exception. In collaboration with the US Department of Energy and the University of Nevada, Lithium Nevada explored previously untouched regions of the McDermitt caldera during the late 2010s. They ultimately struck gold, uncovering anywhere from 20 to 40 million metric tons of lithium beneath the 1,575-square-kilometer region.
“If you believe their back-of-the-envelope estimation, this is a very, very significant deposit of lithium,” remarked Anouk Borst, a geologist not involved in the project. “It could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply, and geopolitics.”
Nevertheless, the decision to industrialize the area is far from straightforward. The McDermitt caldera holds cultural significance for various indigenous groups, including the Fort McDermitt Paiute, Shoshone, and Bannock tribes.
“The Caldera holds many first foods, medicines, and hunting grounds for tribal people both past and present,” stated the People of Red Mountain, a committee representing all three tribes and others. “The global search for lithium has become a form of ‘green’ colonialism. The people most connected to the land suffer while those severed from it benefit.”
This isn’t the first time indigenous tribes have opposed mining in the caldera. Members of the Fort McDermitt Paiute, Shoshone, and Burns Paiute tribes argue that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to provide adequate time for community input when it approved Lithium Nevada’s work at Thacker Pass, a site where 31 Paiute were massacred by government soldiers in 1865. Transforming the untouched regions of the caldera, still used for tribal purposes, into lithium mines would compound this cultural distress and disrupt local ecosystems that are home to multiple endangered plant and animal species.
- I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.
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