A potential major lithium discovery in Pennsylvania could be a boon for President Joe Biden’s electric vehicle (EV) agenda, but access to the key mineral may be reliant on more natural gas extraction.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that as much as 40% of America’s lithium demand could be satisfied by lithium in wastewater from Pennsylvania natural gas wells. While the findings could be a huge boon to Biden’s plans for EVs — which rely heavily on lithium, a commodity dominated by China in the global market — some environmentalists are already worried that the find will encourage more fracking, an effective method of natural gas extraction that is widely opposed by climate activists, according to Inside Climate News.

“This is lithium concentrations that already exist at the surface in some capacity in Pennsylvania, and we found that there was sufficient lithium in the waters to supply somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the current U.S. national demand,” Justin Mackey, a researcher at the National Energy Technology Laboratory and a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, told CBS News regarding the discovery and its implications. “I do hope that it sheds light on creative remediation and reuse of these fluids. There’s a lot of materials that are embodied in the water.”

 

However, water produced by natural gas wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale region decreases by 80% within two years of that well being operational, according to the researchers’ study. Thus, in order to fully harness the lithium potential in the region described by the researchers, it “would require continuous addition of new Marcellus wells to supplant older, less productive wells,” the study states.

Mackey characterized the possible breakthrough as an “intriguing finding” and a first step toward possibly revolutionizing America’s lithium sourcing, but cautioned that there is still a considerable amount of work and analysis that must first be conducted before any real conclusions can be reached, according to Inside Climate News.

It is possible, but so far unconfirmed, that neighboring states like Ohio and West Virginia could have similar lithium concentrations in wastewater from fracking conducted in those areas, according to CBS.

The implications of the new study could be major for Biden’s EV push, which has faced criticism because its underlying policies enhance demand for lithium and other products dominated by China and other foreign countries. Biden and his administration have made an effort to build up a domestic supply chain for green products like EVs and their key components, including lithium, meaning that the Pennsylvania find could be a big break for his agenda.

However, time will tell if lithium can be extracted from the wastewater and converted for other uses in a cost-effective way, and some environmentalists are concerned that the findings could actually end up as a boost for fracking, according to Inside Climate News.

John Quigley, a fellow for the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy who used to serve as an environmental official for the state of Pennsylvania, believes that the discovery should not be the basis for gas producers to push for more drilling, even though such an outcome is “inevitable,” according to Inside Climate News.

Shannon Smith, the executive director of a Pennsylvania-based oil and gas industry monitoring organization called FracTracker, also suspects that the energy industry may use the new information as an excuse to continue or even ramp up fracking in the state, according to Inside Climate News.

Meanwhile, the Marcellus Shale Coalition — a pro-fracking trade group made up of companies involved in the natural gas business — promoted the study and its implications, saying that it “further demonstrates the importance of investing in hydrocarbon resource development, especially for sustained energy and environmental progress

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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