Wyoming Goes Slow On $500 Billion Lithium Find

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) â¿¿ The discovery of lithium in Sweetwater County has already attracted four lithium lease applications, but the applications are on hold for now while state officials develop a strategy on how to handle mining of the new resource.

Ryan Lance, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, said the State Board of Land Commissioners is taking its time deciding how to handle the applications because of the enormous potential value of the lithium find â¿¿ estimated at up to $500 billion based on current market values.

The state board includes Gov. Matt Mead and the other four elected state officials.

The board's options include issuing leases on a first-come, first-served basis or an auction.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute found a vast new lithium resource near Rock Springs during work on a carbon dioxide storage site project.

Lithium, a key component of batteries and many electronic devices, has become highly sought after around the world. Wind, solar and smart-grid technologies all employ lithium-ion batteries to store energy for later use.

Preliminary analyses of fluid samples collected from a well drilled on the Rock Springs Uplift suggested that reservoir brines from a 25 square-mile area of the 2,000 square-mile uplift could contain 228,000 tons of lithium.

State rules on metallic and nonmetallic leases and forms say the first one who applies gets the lease. But the rules also say the State Board of Land Commissioners can decide to hold an auction or require bids for a lease or leases instead.

Right now, Lance tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/16fAFal ) his staff is "time stamping" applications so the priority list will be available if the board decides to lease first-come, first-served.

"We're talking about a $500 billion market price on that lithium and we, of course, have to be very cautious," he said. "We don't want to give it to anyone for a dollar."

Ron Surdam, director of the UW Carbon Management Institute, said that in addition to creating a new industry for Wyoming, the lithium discovery could produce enough money to offset the cost of creating the carbon storage space deep in the ground.

The briny water in the Rock Springs Uplift would have to be removed to allow CO2 storage. In the uplift's case, the water contains lithium.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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