World’s Richest Known Hard Rock Lithium Deposit Located In Step Falls, Maine, USA

Several miles northeast of Sunday River’s ski slopes and not…

Several miles northeast of Sunday River’s ski slopes and not far from Step Falls, Maine, USA, is the world’s richest known hard rock lithium deposit.

It’s not the first time a large deposit has been found in Maine; smaller deposits have been known for decades north of Plumbago Mountain, near Newry.  And the scope of that possibility is staggering: If current market prices hold, the discovery is worth around $1.5 billion at its estimated ore content of 11 million metric tons. Lithium-bearing crystals are up to 36 feet long, making this the most remarkable discovery for this element.  As the mountains above them crumbled and eroded throughout hundreds of millions of years, crystals formed three miles under the surface during the cooling of granite magma. Since the deposit is now exposed, it contains the highest weight percentage of lithium of any other deposit.

Batteries for electric cars and reservoirs for extra energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels employ lithium because it is lightweight and can hold a lot of energy. Lithium-ion battery demand is predicted to expand five- to tenfold by the end of the decade. The world needs to increase manufacturing swiftly to transition away from fossil fuels.  There’s a chance this discovery helps with that. The new mining restrictions in Maine, on the other hand, make it unlikely that the ore will ever be mined at all.  Natural resources and water quality are the primary goals of Maine’s metals mining statute. However, the state and its citizens will need lithium-ion batteries to store energy generated by wind and solar panels and power electric cars.

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It is a metal, but open pit mining of more than three acres, which is the only method to economically extract lithium from Plumbago North, is now prohibited under 2017-enacted legislation in California.  Commercial mining has resulted in many catastrophes, ranging from mine collapses and explosions to rivers turning a sickening orange color.  Copper, lead, and zinc mining generates some of the most severe environmental challenges since these metals tend to be found in iron sulfide-rich regions of rock. Sulfuric acid is formed when iron sulfides come into contact with oxygen or water. Sulfuric acid production may be difficult to halt once it has started, resulting in the pollution of streams for decades, a process known as acid mine drainage.

Indeed, the fallout from Maine’s most famous mines is possibly more well-known than the actual ore itself.

The Callahan Mining Corporation was granted permission to drain a 75-acre coastal estuary near Brooksville, Florida, in the late 1960s and transform the region into an open-pit mine. Around 800,000 metric tons of copper and zinc were taken before the area was submerged and renamed Goose Pond by the mining firm.  It is currently a Superfund site, and a 2013 Dartmouth College study discovered extensive evidence of harmful metals in soil, water, and fish. Public funds will cover cleanup expenditures of $23 million to $45 million.

Legislators, environmental advocacy organizations, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection worked together to draft the 2017 metallic mineral exploration and mining statute with these kinds of incidents in mind. In the end, it was enacted after many years of debate and multiple unsuccessful efforts, and it is one of the most restrictive mining regulations in the country.  Mineral extraction from lakes, rivers, coastal wetlands, and other high-value freshwater areas is prohibited by law. Wet mining waste ponds and open pit mines with a working area more than three acres are not allowed, and neither are mines that must treat toxic wastewater indefinitely.

Because of what occurred in Brooksville and elsewhere, the legislation also mandates corporations to put aside money for cleaning up or addressing any environmental damage for at least 100 years after the mine is shut down.  Only one business, Wolfden Resources Corp. of Canada, has undertaken the procedure following the law’s enactment in the past four years. The corporation withdrew its application for a zoning change necessary to begin the Department of Environmental Protection’s approval process earlier this month after state commissioners moved to dismiss the proposal, citing many flaws in the paperwork.

Wolfden CEO Ronald Little told the panel that a new application would be filed when the company employs a consultant more familiar with Maine’s criteria. According to some experts, Maine’s lithium and manganese resources (Aroostook County is estimated to have the most significant manganese reserves in the nation) may never be mined as long as open-pit mining is prohibited.  Wolfden’s planned Pickett Mountain project and other base metal sulfide resources in Maine, such as Bald Mountain, would not pose the same environmental risks as those reserves, however. The Plumbago North deposit does not occur in sulfide-rich rocks, according to Slack and Simmons. Instead, mining for lithium, there would be like quarrying for granite or gravel.  Mines for zinc and copper in sulfide-rich rocks, on the other hand, shouldn’t be considered deposits, according to Slack, who concurred. It has been at least three or four years since the DEP mining coordinator Mike Clark visited Plumbago North, which at the time was essentially a granite quarry and gemstone prospecting enterprise.

In Clark’s estimation, the quarry, which was less than an acre in size, did not need to notify the city of its plans.  However, acid mine drainage is simply one of several environmental issues Maine’s legislation aims to combat. Many supporters of the bill were opposed to open-pit mining in general because of the significant environmental harm to nearby ecosystems.

Because Maine’s mining regulations were not built to handle lithium and manganese mining, a Natural Resources Council staff scientist involved in developing the most current statute has said.

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