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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 26, 2021

Photo shows a gold mine, not lithium mine for hybrid cars

If Your Time is short

  • The photo is of a gold mine, not a mine for lithium, which is used to make batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.

A self-proclaimed "public service announcement" widely shared on Facebook tries to portray the manufacturing of hybrid vehicles as bad for the environment — but the key photo it uses is of a gold mine.

One photo appears to show a pipeline cutting a clean and narrow path through a forest; the other shows an expansive pit that looks like it’s been stripped by a machine. 

"Keystone Pipeline vs. Lithium Mine for Hybrid Cars. But it’s all about the environment right?"

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We traced the top photo to a Flickr page that identifies the image as a section of the Alaska Pipeline. The Trump administration approved construction of an 875-mile extension of the Keystone line — Keystone XL — but President Joe Biden reversed the approval in January with an executive order, on the grounds that it is harmful to the environment.

Featured Fact-check

The bottom photo does not show a mine to extract lithium, an element used to make batteries. It’s a gold mine. A Google search and a TinEye reverse-image search shows the image is  widely available as a Getty Images stock photo, depicting a gold mine in Kalgoorlie, Australia.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen attempts on Facebook to compare the environmental effects of a pipeline against hybrid or electric vehicles. In March, we rated a similar post False because the "lithium mine" it alleged to be showing was actually a copper and cobalt mine.

Lithium-ion batteries are used for most plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most of their components can be recycled, "but the cost of material recovery remains a challenge for the industry," the department says.

The world’s lithium is either mined in Australia or from salt flats in the Andean regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. The operations use large amounts of groundwater. The water required means that manufacturing electric vehicles is about 50% more water intensive than traditional internal combustion engines, the New York Times reported.

Most lithium is extracted from salty liquid brines that are far beneath the Earth’s surface, according to the Minerals Education Coalition — not open-pit mines like the copper one shown in the photos. That’s not to say lithium isn’t ever extracted from open-pit mines, it’s just less common and often involves smaller pits.

Our ruling

The key photo in this comparison is of a gold mine, not a lithium mine, so we rate the post False.

Our Sources

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More by Tom Kertscher

Photo shows a gold mine, not lithium mine for hybrid cars

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