Zach Maurer’s been working on commercializing lithium in Saskatchewan for nearly eight years. Now, the first commercial production well is being drilled. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Moving towards commercial production next year

TORQUAY – The smile on Zach Maurer’s face was enormous.

As well it should be.

Eight years…

It’s been nearly eight years since he started looking for lithium in Saskatchewan. And now, standing before him, was Betts Drilling Rig 1, drilling what is intended to be the first lithium production well in Saskatchewan.

Maurer, who grew up on a mixed farm north of Weyburn, graduated the University of Regina with a geology degree just when the oil downturn hit its hardest depths. With little prospects at the time for a geologist job looking for oil, he began to dig into lithium prospects. Those prospects had been initially been identified in 2002 in a Saskatchewan Geological Survey paper titled “Economic Potential of Formation Brines” by Ben Rostron, Kim Kreis, Lynn Kelley and Chris Holmden. Over the past 15 years, the Government of Saskatchewan lithium research has been led by research geologist Gavin Jensen.

The company Maurer founded in 2019, Prairie Lithium Corporation, drilled the first targeted lithium well in Canada a few kilometres northwest of Torquay in September, 2021. Since then it was acquired by Perth, Australia-based Arizona Lithium Limited in March, 2023. Maurer became an executive director for Arizona Lithium, looking after the company’s Prairie Lithium Project in Saskatchewan.

 

The company is also working on a sedimentary lithium mining project, known as the Big Sandy Project, in Arizona, but is currently focused on commercializing the Prairie Lithium Project first. The past winter was spent running a pilot plant in Emerald Park, Saskatchewan, testing a direct lithium extraction (DLE) process that extracts and concentrates the lithium from deep brine aquifers, while rejecting the other salts in solution, before further refinement into saleable product. That pilot plant tested lithium-rich brine produced from the company’s initial test wells.

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Arizona Lithium has dedicated over CAD $14.8 million over the coming months, with the intention of drilling at least 6 exploration wells across three pads, and following that up with modular production facilities on those pads. The intent is to reach initial commercial production in 2025. Each pad site is set to produce approximately 2,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year once up and running.

Including its $70.6 million purchase price of Prairie Lithium announced in December 2022, and this dedicated $14.8 million exploration drilling campaign announced in December 2023, Arizona Lithium will have invested over $85 million into the Prairie Lithium project.

 

Betts Drilling Rig 1, drilling just a few kilometres southwest of Torquay. Despite being near the heart of the Flat Lake oil play, this well is for lithium, not oil. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Commercialization

Up until this point, the activity has been about exploration and proving out the resource. While there’s still some exploratory work to be done, this is now the start of the commercialization phase, which will hopefully start seeing revenue in due course.

The company spudded the first well in late May a few kilometres southwest of Torquay, on a pad that was built last November. Maurer was on site for much of the action.

This is where the first two wells on Pad #1 are targeting. Arizona Lithium

The first well drilled this May will initially be an exploratory well, to test the Souris River Formation, before being converted to a production well in the Duperow Formation. That’s the formation that has received all the attention in Saskatchewan. Arizona’s tests have found concentrations up to 172 milligrams per litre between its initial test well drilled a few kilometres to the northwest, and three additional wells in the area the company acquired on quit claims and did testing on.

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Drilling and completion activities will be ongoing across Pad #1, Pad #2 and Pad #3 over the coming months. Production and disposal testing of the wells on Pad #1 will commence in June. The first two wells on Pad #1 are being drilled as vertical wells. Well #1 will test the Souris River and Duperow Formations. Well #2 will test the Dawson Bay Formation and specific disposal targets in the Madison Group. Having production wells and disposal wells in place is a key component of the Prairie Project Development, and brings the project one step closer towards commercial production of Lithium, the company said.

The first two wells are verticals. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Arizona Lithium managing director Paul Lloyd said in a release on May 27 (Australia time, May 26 Saskatchewan time): “I am pleased to announce that we have kicked off our drilling program on schedule. The rig has been delivered to site, the first well has been spudded and the rig is now drilling our lithium wells. Operating in a mature and well-developed oil and gas province, this enables us to efficiently access the skills and services required to develop and fast track our project. These are very deep holes being drilled by a heavy duty oil drilling rig. It will take over 40 service providers and hundreds of people to execute a drilling and completion program like this. I’d like to thank all of the vendors, their employee’s and the local community for stepping up to support our project and we look forward to updating shareholders as the large drill program progresses.”

Maurer said, “This is an exciting and busy time for our project. Lithium can help play a big role in the local economy, as is on display right now with the use of all of the oil and gas service providers that are required to drill and complete these wells. From a resource, infrastructure and regulatory perspective, Saskatchewan is an incredible place for lithium brine development.”

The lithium space in southeast Saskatchewan is heating up, with Hub City Lithium conducting its own DLE pilot plant work in Estevan, from wells drilled near Stoughton. A third company is also drilling its initial test wells. But if Arizona Lithium is able to keep up the pace, it may be the first to reach commercial production.

 

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Lithium in SK, Part 28: Hub City Lithium operating direct lithium extraction pilot in Estevan

Lithium in SK, Part 27: Lithium Bank sells Estevan area land to unnamed buyer

 

Lithium in SK, Part 26: Enter the big boys: 70-year-old Denison Mines buys into Grounded Lithium’s Kindersley project

Lithium in SK Part 25: Primacy of rights, revisited

Lithium in SK, Part 24: Hub City Lithium releases preliminary economic assessment for Viewfield project

Lithium in SK, Part 23: November Crown land sale shows expanding positions

Lithium in SK, Part 22: Arizona Lithium is running its pilot plant for Torquay project, elaborates on commercialization plans for 2025

Lithium in SK, Part 21: Arizona Lithium begins work on future commercial site near Torquay

Lithium in SK, Part 20: Hub City Lithium again finds some of the high concentrations in Canada, announcing second test well results

Lithium in SK, Part 19: Grounded Lithium’s Kindersley project could cost $447 million to build, but bring in $350 million per year

Lithium in SK, Part 18: Hub City Lithium drills second targeted well in Viewfield area, near Stoughton

Lithium in SK, Part 17: Lithium prices have come down … to only US$70,000 a tonne. A decade ago, they were US$7,000

Lithium in SK, Part 16: Arizona Lithium closes Prairie Lithium deal

Lithium in SK, Part 15: Grounded Lithium lays out its development plan

Lithium in SK, Part 14: Prairie Lithium gets federal money, acquisition deal to close soon

Lithium in SK, Part 13B: Hub City announces highest lithium concentration to date, by a significant margin

Lithium in SK: Part 13: Coming into lithium with revenue already flowing from oil

Lithium in SK, Part 12: Hub City Lithium shows promising results northeast of Weyburn

Lithium in SK, Part 11: A detailed video on lithium geology in SE Sask

Lithium in SK, Part 10: A helium explorer who found lithium responds

Lithium in SK, Part 9: And the acquisitions begin, with Prairie Lithium to be acquired by Arizona Lithium

Lithium in SK, Part 8: Ministry of Energy and Resources response to primacy of rights issues

Lithium in SK: Part 7b: The rent’s due, and so is the LLR

Lithium in SK, Part 7: Dealing with an embarrassment of riches – sorting out the primacy of rights

Lithium in SK, Part 6: Direct Lithium Extraction is the multi-billion dollar question

Lithium in SK, Part 5: Prairie Lithium – Old wells or new wells?

Lithium in SK, Part 4: Prairie Lithium pursuing the idea there could be lithium in those brines

Lithium in SK, Part 3: Crown land sale reveals sixth entrant in Saskatchewan lithium exploration race

Lithium in SK, Part 2: Saskatchewan government launches lithium incentives

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