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ExxonMobil Is Getting into Lithium

Ready or not, here comes Mobil Lithium.

An Exxon sign.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

ExxonMobil on Monday announced plans to produce lithium in an area of southern Arkansas known for its vast deposits of the mineral, a key material in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries. The company aims to begin producing battery-grade lithium in 2027 in a 120,000-acre area known as the Smackover formation, “using conventional oil and gas drilling methods” from depleted oil wells. The ore would then be processed nearby, and sold as, imaginatively, Mobil Lithium.

An oil company’s desire to, in its words, “supply the manufacturing needs of well over a million EVs per year” by 2030 might seem akin to, well, a cigarette company getting into the vaping business. As Dan Becker of the Center for Biological Diversity toldThe New York Times, “[Lithium production is] an infinitesimal fraction of what Exxon does and most of what it does is dreadful.” But, he added, “we do need lithium, and it’s better that it comes from a spoiled industrial site where oil drilling used to take place than from a pristine place.”

ExxonMobil’s announcement comes just weeks after its $60 billion acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources, a deal that will allow it to produce 2 million barrels of oil per day in the Permian Basin, the rich oil field stretching from west Texas to eastern New Mexico. As Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin noted at the time, ExxonMobil is also investing heavily in carbon-capture infrastructure and a Texas hydrogen plant. As it continues to expand across the southern United States, with ventures both clean and extremely dirty, ExxonMobil seems to be hedging its bets against an unpredictable energy future.

Jacob Lambert

Jacob is Heatmap's founding multimedia editor. Before joining Heatmap, he was The Week's digital art director and an associate editor at MAD magazine. Read More

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