Texas Standard article - Potential lithium boom simmers in East Texas

I came across another article interviewing Sam Shaw of the Longview News-Journal I thought you all might be interested in reading.

https://www.texasstandard.org/stories/potential-lithium-boom-simmer...

The lithium-ion battery is one of the inventions that makes the modern world possible. It’s in your cell phone, your laptop, maybe even your car. The device’s essential element – lithium – is therefore in very high demand.

Right now most of the world’s lithium production occurs in Australia and Chile. But some lithium miners have tabbed East Texas as one of the element’s potential hot spots.

Samuel Shaw, reporter for the Longview News-Journal, spoke to Texas Standard about the region’s lithium rush. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You recently took a close look at the emerging lithium industry in East Texas. Let me first just ask “why?” Why is this part of the state getting attention as a place to potentially mine lithium?

Samuel Shaw: It is getting attention because some of the highest grades of lithium, or I should say the highest grade of lithium sampled anywhere in North America was in deep East Texas, just by the Louisiana border. And then another sample was taken, which was even higher, just a bit west of that in Franklin County, in a formation called the Smackover.

The United States produces just 1% of global lithium. Most of that comes at the moment from Australia, the lithium triangle and, South America and China.

Are we talking about a lot of companies flooding into the area? Is there really just one? What’s the market look like at the moment?

At the moment, we know that there is Standard Lithium, which is a Canadian company. There’s East Texas Natural Resources.

Through contracts which were filed with the railroad commission, which is overseeing brine mining, we have seen some other companies jump in there, like Black Mountain Lithium. But right now this is all very fresh and novel and new and Standard Lithium was sort of the first entrant into the market here.

Well, how long’s it been going on? How long has Standard Lithium been operating in the area?

I think they began looking at geologic data and seismic information about five years ago. Obviously, East Texas is where the Texas oil boom began. So there’s a lot of information that’s available. The geology is well understood. And they knew that there was lithium here.

Then they began, around three years ago, very quietly locking down mineral leases. They became more and more confident that these deposits were not only here, but they were an extraordinary grade.

A executive at the company told me during an interview that they didn’t say much about what they were doing here because they knew what they had, and they didn’t want to face competition from a large company like Exxon, which has also started to move into renewable energy and increasingly into lithium in southwest Arkansas.

So when we’re talking about mining lithium, what is the operation actually like? Is it like a pit? Is it more like fracking? What’s the operation look like?

Well, it is like a pit and strip mine in a lot of parts of the world. That’s not what these companies are looking at. They’re looking at a technology called direct lithium extraction, which does resemble fracking in a lot of ways. In fact, the method is borrowed from a fracking technique.

And so what it looks like is a well being drilled, and then they run this salt water brine from about two miles underground into a processing station, and then from there, refine that brine into a battery grade product.

Normally it takes about a year and a half to two, conventionally, to get battery grade lithium. But they’re trying to cut out that conventional component entirely and basically do this as one kind of closed loop.

Does that make for a potentially cleaner process? I’m sure there are people who are concerned about environmental issues.

Yeah, I mean, even according to environmentalists, this is far and away the best way to get lithium if you have to get it, and it looks like we should.

But having said that, it does come with some consequences. Like the brine contains a lot of salt – packs more salt that seawater does. And salt is extremely damaging to ecosystems.

As far as the footprint goes for these drilling sites, they’re really small. They don’t look like a pit mine or anything like that. And I think that’s part of the reason why local policymakers, politicians, have sort of welcomed the industry in here.

Well, it’s definitely new, this whole concept, to Texas at least. Do you get the sense – talking about some of those public officials, regulators or attorneys looking at contracts – do people know what’s going on out there? Do people have a sense of how this all works or are they flying blind?

So I think that, at a county level, in places that first came into contact with these companies – like Cass County, Franklin County – folks who were making decisions have a decent idea of what’s going on.

But what really matters is that the folks on the ground, the landowners who are being approached by land men for contracts inquiring about their brine, they tend to not know as much. And that kind of gap in information is where there have been some difficulties.

There have been allegations of perhaps predatory business practices linked to one company. But a lot of this also has to do with the fact that the legal terrain itself is pretty nebulous at the moment. Unlike oil and gas, there isn’t a century worth of case law. And so a lot of this is in the process of being regulated, and policies are being designed at the moment.

Can you describe the range of opinions you’ve heard from locals about how they feel about this potential development moving forward?

Well, first, I mean, people are used to extractive industries out here. So, the idea of somebody offering you a deal to drill on on your property is not something new or necessarily unfamiliar.

What has concerned some locals is just that gap of information, which I alluded to before. Folks thinking that a strip mine might be going in their backyard or something like that. But the money talks and this is an area where oil and gas production has plummeted pretty much across the board.

And so folks are also interested in getting a little bit financial security, perhaps through these contracts. Though the money isn’t quite what it is with with oil and gas.

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New player enters East Texas lithium race, targets Franklin County

https://www.news-journal.com/news/local/new-player-enters-east-texa...

The sprint to lease Northeast Texas land above the lithium rich Smackover Formation is heating up.

Black Mountain Lithium, a subsidiary of Fort Worth-based Black Mountain, has joined Canadian company Standard Lithium in the hunt for the sought-after mineral that powers almost all modern batteries.

In 2023, Standard reported finding the purist lithium brine samples in North America below Cass and Franklin counties. Black Mountain appears to be focusing its leasing and lobbying efforts on Franklin County — a rural area between Sulphur Springs and Mount Pleasant — where local opposition to renewable energy projects also has flared.

Black Mountain is new to the lithium industry and even newer to East Texas. The company’s largest projects are in upstream oil and gas with another subsidiary focusing on battery energy storage. Black Mountain Lithium was incorporated in January.

The company appeared to begin soliciting Franklin County landowners for their lithium brine around December, according to mineral lease contracts obtained by the News-Journal.

By January, Black Mountain approached Mayor Brad Hyman of Mount Vernon, the largest town in Franklin County, to organize a town hall meeting where residents could learn more about brine mining and the company’s vision for the area. A date for that meeting has not been finalized.

Black Mountain declined multiple requests for comment, and little of the company’s plan for East Texas lithium is available in the public domain.

However, Black Mountain CEO Rhett Bennett acknowledged his interest in lithium mining more than a year ago in a LinkedIn post. The post displayed a graph of underinvestment in battery metal extraction with the above caption reading: “Looks like prolific times ahead for the Miners.”

Residents want transparency

Standard Lithium began hunting for leases in Franklin County before Black Mountain, and the Canadian firm’s secretive approach to doing business troubled some local residents who fear the environmental consequences of lithium extraction.

“I haven’t heard from anybody at Standard Lithium at all,” Hyman said.

Black Mountain’s overtures to the community were a welcome change to what Hyman described as an opaque industry that’s left his community in the dark.

“Come share with the community what it is that you’re doing. Maybe it’ll dispel some of the fears that people have around the unknown of what lithium extraction looks like,” Hyman said.

A group of Mount Vernon residents have organized against large solar farms and municipal scale battery storage projects proposed for Franklin County.

Lithium is an essential ingredient for the batteries that store solar energy, and each of the industries — solar, batteries and lithium — have come under fire from Mount Vernon activists for what they say is a lack of communication.

Hyman sees merit in those concerns.

“With these energy companies, the solar stuff going on, companies will talk about how good they are, that they’ll be partners with your community,” he said. “Yet they don’t have the time to actually walk through the front door of City Hall and say, ‘Hey, here’s who we are and what we’re wanting to do.’ ”

The Mount Vernon mayor said the town was not prepared to sign a deal for the city’s minerals as actual lithium production is thought to be five to seven years out. Still, Hyman said, “we are not against lithium — we just need to know more.”

He cautioned private landowners against signing leases so far ahead of anticipated production.

Hyman also noted one other key difference between Standard Lithium and Black Mountain: the Fort Worth-based company seems to be prioritizing mineral leases that include lithium and oil and gas, allowing Black Mountain to pivot depending on what’s found while drilling.

“But right now, we want to understand more about the industry and its environmental impacts,” Hyman said.

Earlier this year, lithium companies operating in East Texas as well as a hydrogeologist familiar with the lithium mining technology told the News-Journal that Direct Lithium Extraction is the lowest-impact method of mining.

The Nature Conservancy, a leading environmental advocacy group, shared that assessment. Direct Lithium Extraction has the same footprint as a fracking well but requires fewer wells that are drilled less often.

Samuel Shaw is a Report for America corps member for the News-Journal, covering East Texas’ rural to urban transformation. Reach him at shaw@news-journal.com .

Having read a lot of articles on DLE, I'm at a loss for the News Journal's continuing description of the process as like fracking.  It's nothing like fracking and that comparison can give people an incorrect and negative impression.  No doubt DLE is much more environmentally friendly compared to hard rock mining and surface pond evaporation projects but there are still some concerns.  One which is long established in this area of the Smackover formation but completely flies under the radar of local media is the presence of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S).

"Hydrogen sulfide is a chemical compound with the formula H₂S. It is a colorless chalcogen-hydride gas, and is poisonous, corrosive, and flammable, with trace amounts in ambient atmosphere having a characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs."

It was brought to my attention Samuel Shaw's email address is incorrect in the article above, it should be: sshaw@news-journal.com

Sam, was it brought to your attention by Samuel Shaw?

No, actually I realized it myself.  If you look at his address in other places, it has 2 SS's.  I guess I should have said, both are listed but only one works.

Hope this helps everyone!

I was going to offer to help Samuel if he was interested.  Where once local media had reporters who understood O&G development, now they have none.  It's hard for someone without any background to grasp and cover these type stories.  Therefore you get statements like DLE is akin to fracking.

I like the idea and completely agree!  It would be great if you could help him with your background in O&G when relating to DLE.

This is all so helpful, informative, and encouraging!! I’m curious who all is in Franklin County. I started a Franklin County group, but few have joined.

Lisa, thanks for starting the Franklin County group.  We need to publicize it and get as many members as possible to join.  At his point information from land owners being approached with lease offers is critical to knowing as much as possible and trying to help as much as possible.  Knowledge is power and land owners need as much as can be provided in order to make informed decisions.

Note that there is an option to "Follow New Members" on the Franklin County Group home page.  I suggest that all current members click on it.

Skip, What is the chances of this covering a large area, more than one county as an example?  We have mineral right in Bowie County which is between Franklin County Texas and Southern Arkansas.  I know very little about Lithium production, so just wondering.  Thank you!

The Smackover is a "conventional reservoir" unlike the Haynesville Shale which is an "unconventional reservoir".  Unconventional reservoirs tend to be continuously productive to varying extents over large areas.  The Haynesville Shale covers all or parts of seven parishes in NW LA and all or parts of six counties in E TX.  Although the footprint is likely around 3.5 million acres, the rock quality varies from economic to sub-economic.

The model that I think best illustrates the Smackover across E TX is the Cotton Valley formation, a conventional reservoir.  I hope the map link below helps to convey my take on the Smackover formation in E TX.  The entire light gray shaded area covers a portion of the larger Cotton Valley formation arc.  Within the arc are what I will call "islands".  Those are the irregular shaped areas that are cross hatched such as the large one labeled "Carthage" and the ones in darker gray such as the one labeled "Greenwood-Waskom".  Although both islands are producing Cotton Valley fields, the differ in permeability (perm).  Those that are cross hatched are designated "tight gas" and those in gray are areas of sandstone that are conventional reservoirs.  In those tight gas islands the formation is so low perm that wells are drilled horizontally and fracked like Haynesville Shale wells.  Where the islands are gray, the wells are vertical and don't have to have the same stimulation to be productive.  This is what I think the Smackover brine play will look like.  A formation covering a large area that has within it islands with differing geologic properties.  I'll see if Rock Man will weigh in and provide his opinion.  I'm thinking that there will be Smackover islands that have the required concentrations of lithium and the volumes of brine required for an economic lithium field.  Those economic islands are what the Smackover lithium players are attempting to test and determine now.

Cotton%20Valley%20Formation%20Map.pdf

Thank you, Skip, for your reply to this subject.  I am hoping it will come our way.  I guess time will tell.

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