Utah lithium project near Green River faces setback

By Jennifer Yachnin | 06/05/2024 01:41 PM EDT

The state engineer suspended a key water permit for a direct lithium extraction project.

Water flows down the Green River.

Water flows down the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, on Jan. 24 in Green River, Utah. Brittany Peterson/AP

Utah state officials reversed course this week on a key water permit for a major lithium extraction project in the state, agreeing with conservation advocates who asked for further review of the project.

In a decision issued Tuesday, Utah State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen said her office would suspend its earlier approval of nearly 4.6 billion gallons of water to be used by a mining company as part of a “direct lithium extraction project” near the Green River. The office will continue consideration of the proposal.

Wilhelmsen’s ruling came at the behest of conservation advocates who had raised concerns about the location of the proposed wells — which would draw water from an aquifer system 10,000 feet below the surface — including the proximity to waste left by a former uranium mining facility.


“We welcome this opportunity to have the record reviewed, assessed, and scrutinized,” Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said in a statement. “The region’s legacy of blowouts, radioactive pollution, and aridity warrant reconsideration to prevent environmental degradation and uphold the public welfare. This isn’t over. But it is the end of the beginning.”