Opposition to lithium mining in Nevada’s Railroad Valley, primarily used in electric car batteries, has come from an unexpected source: space. NASA has identified the area as crucial for calibrating satellite measurements, and as a result, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has agreed to withdraw 36 square miles of the eastern Nevada terrain from its inventory of federal lands open to mining.
NASA relies on the flatness and lack of human disturbance of the land above the untapped lithium deposit in Railroad Valley to ensure precise measurements needed to operate satellites and their applications effectively. The Bureau of Land Management has acknowledged that no other location in the United States can serve this purpose, making the protection of this area essential.
This move by the Bureau of Land Management comes after years of opposition and legal challenges to various mining projects in Nevada from environmentalists, ranchers, and tribal leaders. The agency has been facing scrutiny for approving a large lithium mine in northwest Nevada and initiating a review of plans for another lithium mine near the California line.
Satellite calculations conducted in Railroad Valley play a critical role in collecting information related to weather forecasting, national security, agriculture, natural disasters, and even climate change. This paradox highlights the importance of lithium in reducing greenhouse gases through electric vehicles and the need to preserve the land for satellite calibration to monitor Earth’s warming atmosphere accurately.
3 Proton Lithium Inc., the company holding most of the mining claims in the area, anticipates implementing future plans to extract the brine-based lithium resource, which is considered one of the ten largest deposits globally. The withdrawal of the land will likely hinder the company’s pumping operations, potentially compromising 60% of the site’s value.
Opponents of the withdrawal argue that preventing lithium mining in Railroad Valley undermines efforts to combat climate change and develop renewable energy technologies. However, NASA maintains that any activities that disturb the surface integrity of the area would render it unusable for satellite calibration, prioritizing the protection of critical scientific data and ensuring accurate measurements essential for various economic sectors.