The Western Canadian oil and gas industry stands a chance of adding a side gig in drilling for lithium required by rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI).

“Lithium production from deep aquifer brines located within Western Canada can be competitive,” said researchers in a CERI study titled “Economic Assessment of Lithium Production Potential from Canadian Oil and Gas Operations.”

“Subsurface or deep aquifer brines are abundant in Alberta and Saskatchewan oil and gas fields, and in select regions exhibit elevated lithium concentrations and thus a potential resource.”

Environmental policies that drive forecasts for international switching to electric vehicles give drilled lithium an advantage that counters lower costs for open pit mines into shallow rock mineral formations, CERI researchers said.

Western Canadian production caters to evolving environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment standards with a method known as direct lithium extraction, or DLE.

“As consumers and battery manufacturers expand their focus on sustainable manufacturing and ESG performance indicators, environmental impacts of current lithium mineral production and chemical refining are a key consideration,” CERI said.

“DLE has the potential to reduce energy and emissions intensity, land-use impacts and waste generation as compared to open-pit mining, production and refining.”

Oil, gas and mining veterans have founded a trio of innovator firms – two in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan – and raised money from venture capital groups and government support programs for field trials of DLE technology versions.

In southern Saskatchewan, Emerald Park-based Prairie Lithium Corp. has announced the first Canadian lithium discovery well. It raised C$7.5 million ($6 million) for more action on 565 square-miles of Williston Basin drilling leases.

Calgary-based E3 Metals Corp. has raised C$9.8 million ($7.8 million) and embarked on a three-well program to evaluate lithium in a brine aquifer associated with the 1947 Leduc oil discovery that launched the Alberta fossil fuel industry.

Also in Calgary, Summit Nanotech Corp. has raised $14 million and landed a participation agreement with a British counterpart, CleanTech Lithium Ltd., on a pilot project to test its DLE technology in Chile.

CERI suggests the top contenders to be industrial-scale suppliers of lithium for vehicle batteries would be team affairs that make the mineral a byproduct of oil and gas drilling that encounter brine aquifers.

“In the case of brine produced during active oil and gas developments, centralized production facilities that gather petroleum hydrocarbons and associated produced brine fluids can be capitalized within the by-production scenario,” CERI researchers said.

“Amongst a group of producers within a geographic region of an asset with lithium enriched brines, such as the Marcellus Shale, the Duvernay Shale, or the Montney formation . . . the lithium quantity with sustained enrichment could justify a coordinated development.”