Mining Lithium in Abandoned Oil Fields for Tomorrow’s EVs – by Jacob Lorinc and Robert Tuttle (Bloomberg News – April 20, 2023)

(Bloomberg) — Chris Doornbos pulled up to Alberta’s foundational oil field in a baby-blue Tesla Model Y, a not-so-subtle nod to a new world order. It was a crisp January afternoon in Canada’s top-polluting province and a biting -5C (23F), and the 40-year-old mining executive squinted at a patch of dirt that midcentury prospectors had once scoured for oil. It doesn’t look like much now, he admitted, but what counts is the lithium beneath the soil.

The Leduc oil field was discovered in the 1940s, when a group of Imperial Oil Ltd. workers stumbled upon a well so profuse with petroleum that, on first drill, it burped a gaseous fireball almost 15 meters (49 feet) into the air.

The discovery effectively birthed Canada’s oil and gas industry. Before long, prospectors were drilling thousands of holes across Alberta in pursuit of black sludge. Oil companies drilled more than 4,000 holes in the Leduc field alone.

Today many of those wells have been depleted and abandoned. The cavities have been filled with cement, and some of the salvageable areas are now occupied by wheat farmers. What remains underneath these vast expanses, now that the oil’s gone, are large deposits of saltwater known as brine that contain traces of lithium, the coveted ingredient in electric-vehicle batteries.

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