The dream of building a lithium production industry in south Arkansas to supply the booming electric car market took a 9,000-foot step forward — or downward — on Monday as Standard Lithium Ltd. of Canada announced the beginning of a drilling project in the brine fields of Lafayette County.
The drilling program began at a decommissioned oil well drilled and abandoned as a dry hole in the early 1980s. The project is a key milestone for the Vancouver company and goes hand in hand with a project at a Lanxess bromine filtering operation in El Dorado. The company is preparing a preliminary feasibility study, or PFS, toward building a commercial plant to pull lithium from underground brine in the Smackover geological formation.
Test plants at the Lanxess site have been refining lithium products from brine used by partner company Lanxess’ existing bromine infrastructure for more than two years.
The goal of the new drilling program, company officials said, is to gain information about the lithium resource and “de-risk the resource estimate” while also obtaining data on the porosity and permeability of the land through the entire thickness of what have been judged to be productive zones in the brine formation. A third benefit could be optimizing production and wellfield designs.
“Since beginning the PFS work at our South West Arkansas Lithium Project last year, the team has been advancing numerous engineering and process studies while simultaneously completing all the leases and permits required to start the drilling program,” said a statement by Andy Robinson, Standard Lithium’s president and COO.”
He called the work a systematic drilling program for both new wells into pre-existing plugged and abandoned oil and gas wells in southern Arkansas. He said the process will “collect all necessary resource data” for the feasibility study and most of the resource date for the next step in the process toward building a plant, a definitive feasibility study, or DFS.
“Our ongoing engineering and costing work at Phase 1A of our nearby LANXESS Property Project will also help inform the PFS,” Robinson said. “When complete, the PFS will provide an updated view of project feasibility and economics.”
The drilling work will go on at two new locations and re-enter three plugged and abandoned oil and gas wells. The existing wells will be deepened to assess the thickness of the underground geological structures.
The first re-entry, the company said, was at the Beulah-Taylor No. 1 well, and that work has been completed.
The original well was a dry hole from the oil company’s point of view first drilled in July 1982 and decommissioned the following month. Standard Lithium’s drilling reached the base of the previous bore March 3, a well depth of 8,690 feet. The rig then deepened the hole to the mid-Smackover Formation limestone to a total depth of 8,940 feet on March 8, 2023. A workover rig is now completing perforation of key production zones, the company said in a news release, while the drill rig has been moved to Standard’s next drilling location.
“Brine will be sampled from key productive zones in the Smackover Formation over the coming weeks, and permeability tests and other in-situ testing will also be completed,” the company said. Core samples from the Beulah-Taylor site have been sent for analysis.
The drilling program will continue through the second quarter of 2023 until completed, though not all the data collected will be required for the forthcoming PFS. Some key data from the drilling program (e.g., lithium concentrations in brine) will be made available as independent third-party verified data becomes available.
A geologist consulting for the company, Steve Ross, has reviewed and approved the project’s relevant scientific and technical information at the base of the news release, the company said.
Standard has pioneered a widening search for lithium and other valuable elements in Arkansas’ brine formations. It is “focused on the evaluation and testing of commercial lithium extraction and purification” from about 180,000 acres of leases across two projects, the Lanxess property project near El Dorado and the south Arkansas project in Lafayette County near the Louisiana state line.