North Carolina County lithium mine proposal faces opposition
A company’s plan to enter the rapidly growing global lithium market faces local fears that a proposed new mine in Gaston County will harm people’s health, environment and quality of life. residents.
As Keith Phillips, CEO of mining company Piedmont Lithium, prepares to meet with county commissioners for the first time on Tuesday evening, here’s what you need to know about lithium and the mine proposal:
What is lithium?
Lithium is a key component of batteries used in electric cars, bicycles, wheelchairs, scooters, and personal electronics. The global lithium-ion battery market is expected to more than triple in eight years, from $ 36.7 billion in 2019 to $ 129.3 billion in 2027, according to a study published by market research firm Valuates Reports .
Piedmont hopes to extract 278,000 tonnes of lithium-rich minerals each year from its properties in Gaston County, located south of Hephzibah Church Road east of Cherryville, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte, reported the Gaston. Gazette. The company is also believed to mine several hundred thousand tonnes of other valuable minerals, including quartz, feldspar and mica.
These operations would employ around 500 people, the company estimates.
Why Gaston County?
The Charlotte area was once the world leader in lithium exports.
Stretching from near Gaffney, SC to southwest of Hickory, the Carolina Tin-Spodumene belt supplied most of the western world’s lithium from the 1950s to the 1980s, according to Piedmont’s 2020 annual report. Lithium. Producers then turned to cheaper fields in South America and Australia, the Observer previously reported.
Charlotte-based Albemarle Corp. is the world’s largest producer of lithium for electric vehicle batteries, according to Reuters. Philadelphia-based Livent also has an office in Charlotte and is still dealing with lithium in the area.
Why are some people affected?
A Change.org petition titled “Stop Piedmont Lithium” received over 1,600 signatures.
The petition argues that the proposed mine threatens the quality of water in wells, streams and reservoirs in nearby County towns of Gaston, Dallas and Belmont. Leaks of toxic chemicals from lithium mines are known to massively kill fish and livestock in China, Wired magazine reported.
The petition also raises concerns about the amount of dust, noise and light pollution the mine would likely cause, as well as the possibility that blasting threatens the structural integrity of local homes and businesses.
The organizer of the petition, Will Baldwin, called on residents to demonstrate at the meeting of commissioners scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Piedmont has purchased dozens of homes currently located in its proposed mining area, Spectrum News reported.
“They told us that if we refused to sell, they would exploit around us,” resident Emilie Nelson told the cable news channel.
What is the next step for the Piedmont Lithium mine?
Piedmont has yet to apply for a North Carolina mining license or county zoning rights to begin work on its mine, Reuters reported.
However, the company signed a five-year contract with automaker Tesla Inc. last fall, promising the auto giant one-third of all the spodumene ore it extracts from its properties in Gaston County, according to the press service. Spodumene is the main lithium-rich mineral the company plans to mine.
Piedmont told Tesla that mining will begin between July 2022 and July 2023, according to Reuters. Piedmont has already spent $ 58 million on the project and has hired banks to find investors for about $ 800 million more.
Five of the seven members of the Gaston County Council of Commissioners told Reuters they could block Piedmont’s zoning applications because the company has not told them how its project could impact the quality of life in the area. region.
“Piedmont has in a way put the proverbial cart before the horse. Why on earth would they make this deal with Tesla before they even got mine approval? Chairman of the board, Tom Keigher, told Reuters.
“Maybe it would have been better if (the commissioners) had been constantly in the know,” Phillips told Reuters. “We didn’t really have the time or the resources to do it and we didn’t even know what to say to them, until now.”