Lithium value from produced salt water

Lithium is present in produced oilfield brine. This could develop into a future revenue stream for mineral owners throughout America.


It will depend upon who owns the produced water. Depending upon the state, produced water might be owned by the surface owner. Need to watch how the laws or court cases develop.


This would make for a great law school exam question. So who would own the lithium extracted from the recovered frack water?

Water from the fracked wells can have multiple original sources. It may have been there all along with the hydrocarbons originally. The water injected to cause the fracking may pick up the lithium and other elements in the shale as a secondary outcome of the primary purpose of its injection. It may have come from wells that are used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), in which water is used to obtain residual hydrocarbons from a formation (water flooding). Perhaps from there.

Companies like Apache are using recycled frack water as well as water pumped from aquifers that are brackish and not usable for either agriculture or municipal purposes for their fracking. Was the lithium etc. originally in the existing ground formation or, from the recycled frack water from the previous frack use, or from the brackish water aquifer?

The last piece of the puzzle is the lease. Lithium is a metal (albeit an unusual one) but, most leases are for minerals. While the landowner generally owns the water on their property, the rights to it can be sold. But, this water was introduced and then reclaimed. In Texas, it is the courts and not TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) that determine ownership of water rights. As an aside, could a company get authorization to go into the 3,000+ injection wells to “mine them” for lithium and other elements?

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Extraction would need to be implemented at a large scale, “commingling many oil and gas producers’ waste product to a centralized facility where treatment takes place to concentrate a brine with high enough concentrations of elements to make extraction economically feasible,” he said.

Hmm; sounds like you may be better off trying to make money on recycled consumer plastics…

This article is addresses this issue in Texas.

February 5, 2020

Thought Leadership

Produced Water in Texas - Waste or Groundwater? Who Owns It?

Gray Reed Insights

By Stephen A. Cooney

Larry: I agree, if found you discussion interesting. Is Lithium a metal or a mineral? Where did it come from the mineral owner’s estate or was it added to aid in fracking.

I took a quick look through published caselaw and really didn’t find anything definitive. This may be an area of developing law. If there is sufficient $ at state there will be litigation.

This post is not legal, tax or investment advice. Reading or responding to this post does not create an attorney/client relationship.

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