Emerging lithium-boron supplier Ioneer reports that its Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Esmeralda County, Nevada, has advanced into the final stage of federal permitting with the decision by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to publish a notice of intent (NOI) in the Federal Register.
This marks a major milestone toward the completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and approval of the project’s plan of operations – which is the foundational permitting document for the project and will become the basis for compliance during operations and closure
Ioneer started work on the plan about four years ago, with the latest revised plan having been submitted to the BLM in July, which describes no project-related direct impacts to any of the subpopulations of Tiehm’s buckwheat.
BLM determined that the plan was complete on August 17; however, BLM cannot approve the plan until an environmental review is completed under NEPA. With work on the plan completed and the NOI issued, the project moves into the public review and comment phase of the NEPA process. Publication of the NOI marks the start of that process, starting a public comment period on the scope of the environmental review.
The environmental-impact statement (EIS) design and delivery contractor Stantec, the BLM and other cooperating government agencies, will use comments received during scoping and resource information gathered by Ioneer to prepare the EIS.
Ioneer executive chairperson James Calaway says the Rhyolite Ridge project is the first lithium project to be issued an NOI under US President Joe Biden’s administration, and that this is a significant step toward ensuring a strong domestic supply of critical minerals and strategic materials necessary for development of a domestic battery supply chain essential to the electrification of transportation in the US.
Ioneer MD Bernard Rowe says the project is uniquely positioned in the US, and has been engineered to ensure a stable, long-term, environmentally sustainable source of lithium. “The project is expected to produce sufficient lithium to allow for the manufacture of approximately 400 000 electric vehicles a year over many decades.”
In delivering the project, he says Ioneer will help the US create a domestic supply of lithium for automotive manufacturers, quadrupling the current domestic supply, critical to meeting the climate goals established by the Biden administration.
It will also “positively impact the Nevada economy by creating 400 [to] 500 construction jobs and 250 [to] 300 operating jobs to help diversify the Nevada economy,” Rowe says.
Proceeding after the public comment phase, loneer will update its plan to reflect the outcomes of the NEPA review before it is finalised.
The NEPA process culminates in the BLM’s record of decision (ROD) – which, at loneer’s current best estimate is for delivery thereof by the first quarter of 2024 – representing the Department of Interior’s final decision on Ioneer’s application for an approved plan of operations.
An approved plan enables loneer to start construction of the Rhyolite Ridge project. The company’s current best estimate is that an ROD would be received in the first quarter of 2024.
To enhance the revised plan and enable for mining to start at the southern limits of the deposit, Ioneer will undertake further drilling activity at the southern extension of the ore body as soon as a positive ROD is received.
loneer intends to complete the drilling, enhance the mine plan and update capital and operating cost estimates before making a final investment decision. This work is underway, with the exception of the drilling programme.
The 24-month construction estimate remains unchanged, with first production expected in 2026.
Last year, Ioneer secured the two other key permits required to start construction on Rhyolite Ridge – including a state-based air quality permit, which it received on June 24, 2021; and a state-based water pollution permit, which it received on July 19, 2021.