Lithium well experienced a ‘blowout’ in Green River

Water spurted from well tower on Friday; unclear if it reached the river.

(Christine Sheeter) Water pools by Blackstone Minerals well operation in Green River on Friday, March 8.

A lithium well just outside Green River spurted substantial amounts of water on the afternoon of March 8, according to several eyewitness accounts.

It is unclear whether or not the water pouring from the well’s infrastructure breached the Green River less than a half mile from the operation, or whether it was in any way contaminated.

“You could see that there was water gushing out of the [tower] base, maybe six or 10 feet off the ground,” said Green River resident Kenny Fallon Jr., who drove to the site Friday.

“It didn’t seem very controlled,” he said.

Anson Resources, the parent company of well operator Blackstone Minerals, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

A spokesperson for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Ashley Sumner, said the same day that her office is looking into the incident but doesn’t “have any information to share at this time.”

Several Green River residents reported water flowing from the well tower at Blackstone Minerals’ lithium operation, which lies less than half a mile east of the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, and just north of Interstate 70.

Fallon Jr. said he didn’t see any evidence the water had breached Brown’s Wash, an adjacent streambed that leads to the Green River.

He did see some water flowing in the wash upstream of the well operation, as well as water bubbling out of the ground downstream.

“This was definitely pressurized water that was coming up,” Fallon Jr. said.

Christine Sheeter, another Green River resident, said she observed “large puddles of water” around the well site.

“There were bulldozers that were moving soil to manage the water flow,” Sheeter said, seemingly to divert it away from the wash. Still, she said the water breached what appeared to be settling ponds.

“Whatever amount of water first came out must’ve been a lot because it came through this dike,” she said.

Returning Saturday, Sheeter said she saw trucks removing the water.

She said that on Friday she spoke with an anonymous employee who said the operation hit a carbon dioxide bubble or layer that caused a “blowout.”

Fallon Jr. said he spoke with another employee who guessed they had hit river water because the drill operation was still shallow.

“If they’d gotten to brine, the water would be red,” Fallon Jr. recalled the employee saying.

Per Blackstone Minerals’ draft injection permit with the Utah Division of Water Quality, the company is drilling thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface into a layer of brine, which is then pumped aboveground so lithium can be extracted through a novel, largely untested process called direct lithium extraction.

After that processing, the brine is reinjected 6,000 feet underground — the subject of the permit.

Blackstone is a subsidiary of Anson Resources, the Australian company pursuing lithium and uranium extraction around both Green River and Moab.

The Great Basin Water Network and Living Rivers-Colorado Riverkeeper, two environmental nonprofits, released a statement panning the blowout, saying it “affirms doubts about the company’s ability to tap deep lithium brines.”

“There are so many red flags that are flagrantly waving with this project,” said Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the water network organization. “This foreign company cannot be trusted to steward the Green River and the Colorado River.”

Soon after the “blowout,” Blackstone announced an open house at 6 p.m. March 13. The evening of March 12, it was changed to a presentation and question-and-answer session at the same time at Green River City Hall.

This story was first published by The Times-Independent.

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