Lithium exploration planned in South Dakota’s Black Hills

By: - September 2, 2023 8:57 am

SDO Services, a subsidiary of Midwest Lithium, plans to conduct exploratory drilling for lithium within the area outlined in red. The green lines are the city limits of Hill City. (Courtesy of Rapid Map/Pennington County)

A company looking for lithium in the Black Hills is planning another drilling project, this time near the southern edge of Hill City.

The company is SDO Services, the South Dakota subsidiary of Swiss-based Midwest Lithium.

Michael Schlumpberger works in Rapid City as Midwest Lithium’s chief operating officer. The company’s previously announced drilling plan, at a location 2 miles from Mount Rushmore, drew criticism from a local environmental advocacy group.

Schlumpberger said the company will listen to any concerns that may arise about the new drilling plan’s proximity to Hill City.

“We’re happy to work with concerns from citizens,” he said. “This is a historic mine there, but again, we’re always open to what we can do to reduce our impact.”

Schlumpberger said the company has no start date yet for either drilling project.

The new plan includes up to 80 holes as deep as 850 feet each. Sixteen drilling areas are planned, each measuring about 50 feet by 70 feet, with up to five holes per area.

The drilling sites are just south of the Hill City limits within a 20-acre parcel owned by the Crossed Sabers limited partnership. The partnership was formed in 2012 by Frank “Rudy” Henderson, a former legislator and state Supreme Court justice, and his wife, Norma, both of whom are now deceased but have numerous living descendants.

Details of the drilling plan are included in an “exploration notice of intent” filed with the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. There is no permit required for exploratory drilling in South Dakota, but state regulators can impose restrictions on drilling plans. Those restrictions often aim to protect cultural and archaeological resources, and to require the plugging of drill holes and the restoration of land to a natural-looking condition.

SDO Services is looking for a lithium-bearing mineral called spodumene in the area of the former Mateen Mine, one of the places lithium was mined decades ago in the Black Hills for use in glass, medicine, ceramics, greases and other items. The growing modern demand for lithium is driven by its use in batteries for electric vehicles and other devices.

SDO Services previously filed notice of its intent to drill up to 55 holes in the area of another former lithium mine, about 2 miles northwest of Keystone and 2 miles northeast of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Another company, Australia-based Longview Minerals, filed notice last year of its intent to drill up to 100 holes about 4 miles south of Custer. According to the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Longview has begun exploration activities on that site.

The department said last month that an operator, Cody Schad, is conducting the only active mining for lithium in the state. Schad has four licensed pegmatite mine sites in Custer County and one in Lawrence County. He has not reported any lithium mining at the Custer sites, the department said, but he’s removed 15,000 tons of pegmatite from the Lawrence County site to sell as lithium-bearing material.

South Dakota does not impose severance taxes on lithium. A state Senate committee rejected a bill last winter that would have imposed a tax similar to those already imposed on “energy minerals” such as coal, oil, natural gas and uranium.


This story was originally produced by the South Dakota Searchlight which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus, including the Daily Montanan, supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. 

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Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper

Seth is editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight. He was previously a supervising senior producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting and a newspaper journalist in Rapid City and Mitchell.