It’s Not Just Thacker Pass. The Entire Region is on the Chopping Block.
by Elisabeth Robson
In their June 2021 Fact Sheet about the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project, Lithium Americas includes a two page document about biodiversity at Thacker Pass and claim they have engineered the project “to minimize its environmental footprint.” On the second page is a map showing the Thacker Pass Project area in the bottom part of the McDermitt Caldera, which straddles the border of Nevada and Oregon.
Lithium Americas claims that protecting the Montana mountains is their priority, writing “Lithium Americas made the decision in 2018 to move the project south of the Montana Mountains to avoid disturbing sensitive ecological areas located within the mountains,” and that “[T]he project will not involve any direct physical disturbance of sage grouse leks or golden eagle nests”.
Putting aside for the moment that any industrial disturbance to the Thacker Pass area will have significant impacts on wildlife and sensitive areas, including pronghorn who migrate through Thacker Pass, many species of birds, including sage-grouse who are exquisitely sensitive to noise, and countless other species who call Thacker Pass home or rely on it for some part of their life cycle, one might believe, reading their propaganda, that Lithium Americas is going to limit the scope of their mining operations in Thacker Pass to the project area already defined for the Thacker Pass mine. If you think that, you’d be wrong.
In the article “Proposed lithium mine raises worries in Humboldt County” in the Las Vegas Sun on May 3, 2022, Lithium Nevada Corporation, a subsidiary of Lithium Americas, claims again that the project is designed to “avoid environmentally sensitive and rugged terrain”. However, they also say that the project allows for future potential expansions. Lithium Nevada made these plans for potential expansion clear in the project documents the company filed with the SEC and with the Environmental Impact Statement, so this is no secret.
The same article quotes John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch, who says that in the future a series of mines could line the Montana mountain range, creating, as he says, an “enormous mining district”.
The “Independent Technical Report for the Thacker Pass Project, Humboldt County, Nevada, USA” document filed with the SEC by Lithium Americas on February 15, 2018, includes a map that illustrates the plans the company has for the region, showing the area of Lithium Nevada Corporation’s mining claims and the known areas of lithium mineralization. This map shows the claims and potential mining areas stretching at least 30 miles north of Thacker Pass, through the heart of the Montana Mountains, the last great sage-grouse habitat on the planet.
Why, then, does the company say in their 2-page fact sheet that they moved the Thacker Pass project south to avoid disturbing sensitive ecological areas within the mountains when they have every intention of expanding the mining project into the Montana Mountains where the sage-grouse leks are located? Do they believe that once the first project is begun, it will be easier to get further mining projects in the region approved?
This projected expansion by Lithium Nevada and its parent company, Lithium Americas, along with the two other large lithium claims on the Oregon side of the border, one in the McDermitt Caldera by Australian company Jindalee Resources Limited and the other just outside the Caldera by Acme Lithium Inc., will turn this entire region into a fully industrialized area with roads, mining pits, refineries, waste dumps, a dramatic increase in truck and other vehicle traffic, and new housing and/or man camps and other developments to support the many hundreds if not thousands of workers that will be required to mine the area.
To understand the scope and scale of what is being proposed here, take a look at the mining plans illustrated in three images from the three mining companies—Lithium Nevada, Jindalee, and Acme—combined into one:
Image created by Protect Thacker Pass from these sources:
Thacker Pass image from https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1440972/000156459018013979/lac-ex991_8.htm
Jindalee image from https://www.jindalee.net/site/projects/usa/us-lithium
ACME image from: https://acmelithium.com/2022/03/23/acme-lithium-inc-acquires-new-lithium-project-in-mcdermitt-caldera-region/
Base map: Open Street Map
As Kale Telage writes in “Lithium Americas: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” on the investing site Seeking Alpha on April 26, 2022, “Thacker Pass may just be the beginning.” The land, the wild beings, and the local people of this area are in for a shock. If built, these industrial projects will utterly and irrevocably destroy this wild and quiet region currently thrumming with life and beauty and turn it forever into a wasteland.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
— T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land