Almost exactly one year ago, Prairie Lithium was swapping a well originally drilled by Deep Earth Energy Production. The US border was roughly 200 metres to the right of this photo. Eagle Sky Ventures was the service rig involved, and Captive Rentals provided the tanks.  Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – Saskatchewan has a new opportunity to be part of the electrification revolution, but how will help out the fledgling lithium industry? The same way it is helping helium, oil and gas.

On Nov. 7, Minister of Energy and Resources Jim Reiter announced Saskatchewan would be extending its go-to incentive programs to lithium. The programs are the Oil and Gas Processing Investment Incentive (OGPII) and Saskatchewan Petroleum Innovation Incentive (SPII).

And, apparently, they work, as industry leader Prairie Lithium has already successfully taken advantage of SPII. More on that in a bit.

OGPII and SPII

OGPII and SPII are very similar in nature. They offer transferable oil and gas royalty/freehold production tax credits for qualified greenfield or brownfield value-added projects at a rate of 15 per cent of eligible program costs for OGPII, and 25 per cent for SPII. OGPII focuses on processing, while SPII focuses on pilot and commercialization projects.

OGPII eligible activities add or create value by processing, transforming, and/or upgrading upstream oil, gas, helium and now lithium industry products, by commercializing upstream oil and gas production byproducts and waste products, or by increasing value-added chemical fertilizer production may be considered eligible. Eligible projects can include new (greenfield) facilities or expansions (brownfield) of existing facilities, as well as all enabling infrastructure that is required to bring the project into operation.

OGPII projects must involve a minimum investment of CAD$10 million in eligible costs.

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As for SPII, the project can clearly be demonstrated to be new to Saskatchewan’s oil, gas, helium or lithium industry. This means an innovation must be the first-of-its-kind in Saskatchewan’s oil, gas or helium industry or it must be a significant advancement on the current state of the art in terms of concept, function or design, relative to other similar innovations deployed in Saskatchewan’s oil, gas, helium or lithium industry, according to the program website.

The eligible project can be clearly demonstrated to be at a new and significantly different commercial scale that has no technical equivalent in the associated industry. “The eligible project also possesses unique features and/or benefits that offer significant differentiation from current competitive offering in the Saskatchewan marketplace, and the project itself poses new and significant technical challenges as a result of deploying the innovation at this unmatched scale,” it said.

The eligible innovation must be applied in a project of which the aim is to improve oil, gas, helium or lithium recovery, manage environmental impacts, increase value-added processing or commercialize oil, gas, helium or lithium production byproducts or waste.

The eligible SPII project must involve a minimum of CAD$1 million in eligible capital and operating costs.

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OGPII has been successfully used by the Gibson Moose Jaw Refinery, Steel Reef Infrastructure, Highrock Resources, Verdera Energy, Ridgeback Resources and Flying Dust First Nation, which partnered with Genalta Power. North American Helium was the first helium company to take advantage of it, back in April, 2021.

On Nov. 7, Minister of Energy and Resources Jim Reiter introduced the expansion of incentive programs to include lithium. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

 

Energy Minister explains 

Reiter told Pipeline Online on Nov. 7 that essentially it was a minimal change to both programs. “We’re just adding lithium as one of the eligible minerals.”

Asked if these two programs had become the province’s go-to incentive programs for anything developed with a drill bit, Reiter said, “Yeah, I think that’s fair.”

He added, “Certainly we’re trying to make these as helpful to the industry as we can. That’s why you see the change again today. So I think it’s fair that we feel like they’ve been successful. We can make them even more so.”

In his speech in the legislature, Reiter said, “Lithium is used in the manufacturing of batteries for electronics such as phones, tablets, and even electric vehicles. Lithium can be drilled from the ground just as oil and gas are, which is what companies like Grounded Lithium and Prairie Lithium are currently doing. Prairie Lithium not only drills directly for it, but also uses their own technology to extract lithium from oil brine in decommissioned oil and gas wells.”

He noted the government’s growth plan “established a goal supporting the transformation of the province’s economy through innovation, technology, and growth development of Saskatchewan’s technology sector. This includes continuing to develop our lithium sector and lithium extraction technology.

“Lithium is already at high demand around the world and, as society progresses, the demand for lithium is projected to increase significantly. With the importance of battery technology in the world today, we feel it’s crucial that we continue exploring our lithium potential here at home. This is also something we should be very proud of, and with the addition of this critical mineral to our existing incentive programs, it will strengthen our investment attractiveness for other companies across the world. This will also expand and establish diversity in our mining sectors and will help to continue Saskatchewan’s position as one of the best mining jurisdictions on the planet.”

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Prairie Lithium

Zach Mauer, president and CEO of Prairie Lithium, told Pipeline Online on Nov. 7 that his company had already successfully used the SPII program.

“We actually used the SPII program in 2020. We used it on our field demonstration units that we did with Whitecap back in 2020, for that project we did out near Kindersley,” he said.

Mauer explained that an expenditure of say $1 million, they could accrue a 25 per cent royalty credit. But since they don’t have any production themselves, they could then sell that $250,000 royalty credit for something like $230,000 to an oil company.

“What we do is we sell those $250,000 in royalty credits to oil companies for, call it $230,000. So the oil company is buying $250,000 worth of credit for $230,000. They’re saving $20,000 up front on their credit, so it’s a win for them, and we get $230,000 from them, non-diluted.”

The oil company gets a discounted royalty credit, and the lithium explorer can turn it into hard cash. And it doesn’t have to be an oil company, he noted. A potash company could buy those royalty credits as well.

Mauer explained that they were able to use SPII in 2020 because it was associated with an oil and gas project, extracting lithium from the produced water coming from an oil well. But the direction most lithium producers are now taking is to produce brine itself, without associated oil production. And that’s where expanding these incentives will make all the difference.

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That’s important, because most of the exploration to date is now focused on the Duperow formation, which is known as the Leduc formation in Alberta. There’s not much in the way of oil production from the Duperow in Saskatchewan, so wells targeting the Duperow are likely going to be lithium-bearing brine-only.

Mauer said, “They were set up for oil and gas and I think helium was in there. So lithium was only eligible if it was associated with one of those projects. And now lithium projects, assuming they get approved, will be eligible for the incentive as well.”

Prairie Lithium drilled its first targeted lithium well into the Duperow near Torquay in late September, 2021. It has recently acquired several oil wells in the area that had been slated for abandonment. Their intention is to deepen those wells into the Duperow for further testing. “We’re not going to put the project on hold, but we’re definitely going to put the application in as soon as we can,” Maurer said.

Grounded Lithium’s first targeted lithium well was drilled near Coleville. Photo courtesy Grounded Lithium

Grounded Lithium

Grounded Lithium drilled its first targeted well near Coleville in August.

“We welcome this news from the Government of Saskatchewan to support this potentially significant industry in the province,” president and CEO of Grounded Lithium Gregg Smith said in a release. “The geology of Saskatchewan chose us as the right place to pursue our lithium-from-brine project, and Saskatchewan stands out as a favourable jurisdiction for lithium resource development. We foresee significant growth over the next five years with drilling and facility development accompanied by the associated benefits of impactful job growth and royalty revenues.”

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Greg Phaneuf, vice president of Grounded Lithium, told Pipeline Online on Nov. 7, “We certainly will be looking at the program ourselves. And if it makes sense, and we’re all fine, we’ll make an application to seek wherever funding is available to lithium producers in the province of Saskatchewan.”

“We’ll be investigating, for sure,” he said. But as the province had included Grounded in the announcement, Phaneuf was confident they would qualify.

Living Skies Lithium’s Trent Jordens, left, and Ed Dancsok, are the company’s two principals. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Living Skies Lithium

Trent Jordens, president and CEO of Weyburn-based Living Skies Lithium said on Nov. 8, “I think it’s part of the equation of attracting bigger players and bringing attention to this.

He noted it’s a local thing, versus federal incentives.

“For us, I think we just need to know that we’ve got something coming down the pipe that is going to bring an attractive investment opportunity, with a good return and the government’s behind us.

“People need to know, especially our investors, even within the province and outside the province, that the province is in line with this; that we have some answers on royalties regulations. So it’s a start, but we really got to narrow the focus and get rid of the unknowns. And this definitely helps.”

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NDP Energy and Resources critic Aleana Young, responding to the expansion of lithium incentives. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

NDP reaction

NDP Energy and Resources Critic Aleana Young, MLA for Regina University, said in a speech in the House on Nov. 7, “This is an evolution of an industry undergoing significant, significant innovation, both here at home and for the province. And I believe all members in this House are proud of the innovation that takes place right here at home.

“This is re-energizing, re-incentivizing, and re-economizing, in many cases, assets that are pre-existing here in Saskatchewan, complementing existing expertise in the field, in research, amongst operators, SRC (Saskatchewan Research Council), and the subsurface lab here in Saskatchewan.

“With growth forecasted to grow in this homegrown industry, this innovation and opportunity here will also to continue to flourish.

“You know, we truly need an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to innovation and our economy here in Saskatchewan. And as this industry and natural complements to it, like the one announced by the minister today, continue to roll out, we will certainly be paying attention to the uptake, and consulting with the sector, with industry, with rights holders, researchers, and investors.”

 

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Lithium in SK Part 1: As the race for lithium takes off, Saskatchewan is seeing the dawn of a new industry