Five blocks of rights sold for brine minerals, including lithium

Regina – If there’s one mineral that you probably have in your pocket right now that the whole world is looking for, it’s lithium. The lightest metal on the periodic table, lithium is the key component of lithium-ion and lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries due to its high energy density.

And now it looks like companies are looking for it in Saskatchewan.

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Saskatchewan’s subsurface mineral Crown disposition public offering held on Dec. 17 raised $45,000 in revenue, bringing the total for the 2019-20 fiscal year to $55,000.

The press release from the Ministry of Energy and Resources noted, “Subsurface minerals” are defined as all natural mineral salts—boron, calcium, lithium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, bromine, chlorine, fluorine, iodine, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, and their compounds, occurring more than 60 metres below the land surface. Potash is a potassium compound, and subsurface minerals dissolved in subsurface geological formation waters are commonly referred to as “brine minerals.”

Five subsurface mineral permit blocks totalling 7,630 hectares were posted.  Sun Valley Land Ltd. picked up three permit blocks totalling 5,039 hectares for $29,001.  Prairie Lithium Corporation bid $16,123 for the two remaining permit blocks totalling 2,591 hectares.

The highest bid received in this offering was $19,001 from Sun Valley Land Ltd. for one of its three blocks. This 2,134 hectare permit block is located 30 kilometres southeast of Weyburn and is prospective for brine minerals, such as lithium. Thirty kilometres southeast of Weyburn would put it in roughly the area of the southeast corner of the Weyburn Unit.

Faisal Sayeed, a geologist and director of technical services with the ministry spoke to Pipeline News on Dec. 19 about the sale.

“Lithium is an up and coming commodity for our province,” he said. “Lithium is a brine mineral, naturally occurring in a variety of geologic settings.”

In South America, one of the key sources of global lithium supplies, lithium is extracted from extremely salty lakes on the surface. If lithium is to be developed in Saskatchewan, it would be coming from brine underground. Sayeed noted that there are several sources of brine in Saskatchewan, including oil and gas production and prairie evaporite (potash) production. Both have lithium as a dissolved solid.

“The idea is to extract lithium from the brine,” he said.

Asked which formations might be prospective for lithium, Sayeed responded, “The research is still ongoing.”

From a previous story, Pipeline News is aware that one of the research geologists working for the ministry has been working on lithium for several years.

Sayeed said the Saskatchewan Research Council is also working on lithium research and development.

Its widely known that Saskatchewan oil wells tend to have a high water cut, but it’s not really water, it’s actually a brine, or salt water. And that may raise the question of whether a develop needs to drill for it on purpose, or may simply use brine already produced in oil production. One of the attractive concepts is to extract lithium from produced water, which is otherwise an expense. “A lot of the heavy lifting has been done,” Sayeed said if that approach is taken. He said some lithium proponents are approaching oil and gas producers in this regard.

A company has eight years to develop a permit block before converting it into a lease, usually for 21 years.

Deep Earth Energy Production Corp. was successful in May, 2019, paying $10,000 to securing a block of mineral rights in the Torquay area. At the time, DEEP said in a press release, “DEEP posted and acquired a single subsurface block totalling 1,553 hectares. The permit block is located along the Saskatchewan-North Dakota border, approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Estevan, in an area that is prospective for brine minerals such as lithium. The permit block encompasses DEEP’s geothermal well completed in December 2018.”

This time around, Sayeed said four of the blocks were in southeast Saskatchewan, and one block was in northwest Saskatchewan. He said there were “a bit spread out.”

The largest block was 2,134 hectares, or 5,772 acres, or approximately 8.25 sections. It brought in $19,001.

The overall dollar amounts were not high. The price per hectare ranged from $2.14 per hectare to a high of $9.65. That equates to $0.86 per acre to $3.91 per acres, or $553.3 per section to $2499.36 per section.

Sayeed characterized that as “A very attractive price for investors to come into the province.”

“The attraction of trailblazing opportunities in lithium is up and coming.”

When it comes to a royalty structure, he noted that lithium is included with the other minerals listed above, and that the province is “working feverishly” to come up with an established royalty framework for these minerals.  

In its press release, the Ministry of Energy and Resources said, “The subsurface mineral public offering is a competitive bidding process that allows for the fair, orderly, and transparent dispositioning of subsurface mineral rights in Saskatchewan. The Crown subsurface mineral rights posted in each public offering are requested by interested parties in the potash and brine minerals industry; if approved for posting, the rights are included in the next scheduled public offering.”

The next subsurface mineral public offering in Saskatchewan is scheduled for April 20, 2020.

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