It literally is the dawn of a new industry in this province. This is the first targeted lithium well drilled in Saskatchewan, drilled by Prairie Lithium. Since then, wells have been drilled near Coleville by Grounded Lithium and Stoughton by Hub City Lithium. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

ESTEVAN – If you’re reading this on your phone, tablet or laptop, it is being powered by a lithium battery. If you plan on ever owning an electric vehicle, it is almost certainly going to use a lithium battery, and a very large, heavy one at that. But actually, since it’s made of lithium, it will be lighter than any other battery commercially viable at this time.

And that’s why lithium is so important. And Saskatchewan is poised to play a major role.

As the world moves towards electrification, lithium has become one of the absolutely crucial minerals. Indeed, without lithium, the entire idea of an electrified economy is almost moot. That’s because you can’t beat the periodic table.

Lithium is the lightest metal, period. The only two lighter elements are hydrogen and helium. So if you want to create a battery that uses a metal, any other material will be heavier. It’s simple chemistry.

The heavier the battery, the heavier the vehicle or device. And in vehicles, a heavier battery means you need an even larger battery just to have the power to move the added weight. It’s like the rocket equation. The more fuel you need, the more fuel you need to move the initial fuel, until it gets so big as to be impractical.

Remember brick phones? They used nickel-cadmium batteries, and were much, much heavier, and much bulkier. An iPhone using a Ni-Cd battery would probably be the size of an actual brick.

So lithium’s important. But why do we care?

Apparently, southern Saskatchewan may have a lot of it, right under our feet. There’s currently a race to determine how much is there, and how to commercialize it. The prize is billions. Many, many billions. In the last ten years lithium prices tripled from $7,000 a tonne to $21,000 a tonne, and then tripled again to $65,000 a tonne.

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Anyone familiar with oil extraction in Saskatchewan knows that over time, you’re going to produce a lot more water than oil. Sometimes as much as 98 per cent water. But that water is a salty brine. And depending on the formation, the dissolved salts may contain lithium.

There’s been one geologist working for the provincial government, Gavin Jensen, that’s been doggedly pursuing this for over a decade. For years, he spoke to nearly empty rooms at conferences. But at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in May, it was literally standing room only. Much of the exploration being done now is based on his initial work. He’s been talking about extracting lithium from the brines deep underground. Now, people are doing something to develop those brines.

Pipeline Online has spent the last year working on a series of stories about the prospects of lithium development in this province. Indeed, in the week before launching this website, I was present videoing and photographing the drilling of the very first targeted lithium well in this province, and indeed Canada, at Torquay. The widely acknowledged leader in the field, Prairie Lithium of Emerald Park drilled that first well in later September, 2021. A few weeks later, they tested it.

Zach Maurer, president, CEO and founder of Prairie Lithium, right, and the company’s geoscience manager, Chelsey Hillier, watching results during the drilling of the company’s first lithium well on Sept. 27, 2021. Both are geologists. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Zach Mauer, originally of Weyburn, heads up Prairie Lithium. He launched it because the oil crash made prospects difficult for a recently graduated geologist. Now, in a manner not too different from Silicon Valley, the company is blazing the trail.

If this lithium thing pans out, this photo is one for the history books. Dr. Ben Rostron is performing the very first test of lithium-bearing brine taken from the very first lithium well drilled in Saskatchewan. That took place on Oct. 19, 2021. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Prairie Lithium’s Dr. Ben Rostron was the scientist drawing the sample. Taking a picture of him processing that very first sample, I told him, “Ben, if this works out, it’ll be like taking a picture of Steve Wozniak inserting the first chip into an Apple computer.”

He smiled, and said, “I sure hope so.”

Since then, two other players have drilled wells – Grounded Lithium at Coleville, and Hub City Lithium at Stoughton. Prairie Lithium has re-entered oil wells that were initially going to be abandoned. The pace is picking up, and there’s interest in both southeast and west central Saskatchewan. That makes this a provincial play.

And two more lithium players are getting in the game, Lithium Bank and Living Skies Lithium. Over this past year, Pipeline Online has spoken to all of them.

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Spaced out over the coming weeks, Pipeline Online will be running a series of stories exploring this, the newest frontier in the Saskatchewan energy sector.

This is going to be the most in-depth coverage regarding the development of Lithium in this province. There’s going to be well over a dozen stories. Once you’ve read them all, you’ll have a really good idea of just what exactly is going on in the race for lithium.

And it’s all being accomplished with oilfield companies and services.

As the world is telling us oil and gas must go away, lithium may prove to be the salvation for the companies and workers in the industry. From the drilling rigs and service rigs, to the tank rentals and geological expertise, it’s all oil and gas services and people. You may not have realized it, but several of the ads you’ve seen on this site over the past year were not shot on oil wells, but a lithium well. Right now, a lithium play is entirely indistinguishable from an oil play. You wouldn’t know the difference unless you saw the sign at the lease entrance.

If lithium is the “just transition” from oil and gas, this series will give you a good idea of what it looks like. Helium may be a little further ahead, but lithium’s potential for Saskatchewan is much, much larger.

One more thing: right now, everyone’s trying to figure out where the lithium is. But no one’s really figured out how to successfully commercialize it in this manner. You’ll read about direct lithium extraction, or DLE. Everyone’s talking about it, but no one’s doing it, on a commercial scale, yet. And figuring out a successful DLE process is quite literally the multi-billion dollar question.

And then there’s a question we’re calling “primacy of rights.” It turns out that with development of helium, lithium, natural gas, oil and even geothermal energy, it is possible to get several of these products from the same wellbore. And the process and cost of getting the mineral rights to oil and gas is different for lithium and different again for helium. If Saskatchewan doesn’t get this right, it could lead to headaches, delays, and perhaps all sorts of legal conflicts. This series dives deeply into this subject as well.

On Nov. 7, Saskatchewan introduced an incentive to help out this fledgling industry. We’ll start there. Watch Pipeline Online for deep dive stories into this exciting new industry you won’t find anywhere else.

 

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Grounded Lithium just drilled its first targeted lithium well in Saskatchewan, only the second of its type in this province

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