weather icon Clear

Demand for lithium a potential boon for Nevada

Updated February 26, 2017 - 1:01 pm

CARSON CITY — Deep within the bowels of Nevada, a mineral found in the underground brines represents a potential growth industry for the Silver State.

Lithium, used in car batteries, ceramics and even anti-depressant medications, is mined in one place in the U.S.: Nevada.

State mining regulators are working on Assembly Bill 52, which would create a framework for lithium mining and exploration in Nevada. State officials say it would add clarity to a system that requires explorers to rely on water well regulations and waivers to sample brines for lithium from drilled wells.

It comes amid an increased demand for lithium with the arrival of the Tesla gigafactory, which makes car batteries east of Reno, and Faraday Future, an electric car maker that has announced plans for a plant in North Las Vegas.

Lithium only has four producers in the world, with much of the mining done in South America.

“There’s not much new production coming online in the world, and the demand is going up for batteries mainly,” said Richard Perry, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals.


Lithium exploration in Nevada has grown in recent years. In 2016, lithium exploration expenditures totaled $20.9 million in Nevada, according to the Division of Minerals. That’s 7 percent of all exploration expenditures in the state, including gold and silver, which make up the bulk of mineral exploration costs.

In 2015, lithium expenditures in Nevada totaled $9.2 million, and exploration amounted to only 3 percent of all mineral exploration in the state.

The demand for lithium brine exploration is high, with 13,258 claims filed throughout Nevada by 25 companies in 18 different basins as of January, state data show.

A claim doesn’t necessarily mean lithium is present, but it is a starting point for determining if the area has lithium.

“The way this industry works is you have to get a land position first, and then you start figuring out how do I explore,” Perry said.

Before staking a claim, steps include researching publicly available data sets of other wells in the area, such as geothermal, oil and water wells, to find areas with elevated lithium. After staking a claim, the next step is drilling andsampling the brine.

“In order to sample, you have to pump, and if you pump, it’s a well,” said Mike Visher, a deputy administrator in the Division of Minerals. “And that’s a part of the problem. Before you pump, it’s already a well, which means it has to be drilled with a permit and a waiver from the state engineer, and that’s a little confusing for typical hard rock exploration companies, and it can slow the process down quite a bit.”


AB52 would place the regulatory framework for boreholes and wells used to explore for lithium within the Division of Minerals.

If passed, the Division of Water Resources, the Division of Minerals and the Division of Environmental Protection would work together on regulations, which would be developed through a workshop during the second half of 2017. The bill would allow sampling of brine from boreholes and a permitting process for dissolved mineral resource exploration wells.

The only lithium brine mine operation in the U.S. is at Silver Peak in Esmeralda County. Opened in 1966, it’s owned by Albemarle.

“Certainly we are aligned in our goals,” said Karen Narwold, chief administrative officer and general counsel for Albemarle, stressing that the company supports the goal of encouraging more exploration.

What may be lost in the conversation is that lithium’s connection to water cannot be eliminated, she said.

Narwold said it’s important to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction” that makes changes without a thoughtful review of the regulations.

The company has senior water rights in the Clayton Valley, where its Silver Peak operation is in Nevada. Perry said officials are working on an amendment to the bill, which is a work in progress.

Narwold said the company looks forward to discussing the issue with the state.

“I’m not opposed, and we’re not opposed, to people thoughtfully looking at the regulatory environment and saying, ‘Can we make this better?’” Narwold said.

Nevada lithium claims (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Nevada gets $3M in settlement for ITT students

Attorney General Aaron Ford announced his office has reached a settlement with Student CU Connect CUSO, a company that offered loans for students attending ITT Tech that Ford called abusive.