(Refiles to correct spelling of Albemarle in headline)
SANTIAGO, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Chilean regulators have threatened Albemarle Corp with legal action, demanding that by week´s end the world´s top lithium miner present a plan for turning over data on its reserves of the ultralight battery metal, according to filings obtained by Reuters.
In 2016, Chile gave Albemarle approval to hike production from the lithium-rich Atacama salt flat on condition the miner prove its reserves could sustain the increased output.
Chilean nuclear agency CCHEN, which also licenses lithium exports, said Albemarle had failed to provide adequate reserves data more than a year after the regulator requested it, according to a Jan. 4 letter obtained by Reuters under Chile’s Transparency Act.
Albemarle sought to keep parts of that data confidential but the regulator has until now rejected its arguments. Market watchers, meanwhile, have obsessed over how much lithium is available to miners because the flat is crucial to satisfying a predicted boom in global demand for the electric vehicle battery metal.
“To date, your representatives have not complied with the delivery of the information requested,” CCHEN wrote to Ellen Lenny-Pessagno, Albemarle’s country manager in Chile. The letter gives the U.S.-based miner five days from Jan. 4 to deliver the information, or explain how and why it should remain confidential.
“CCHEN reserves the right to exercise its legal powers...in the event that the information is not delivered in a timely manner,” the agency said in the letter.
CCHEN head Jaime Salas told Reuters by email that such actions included any available to the agency under Chilean law.
Albemarle told Reuters in a statement that there was no conflict with CCHEN, and said it planned to issue a prompt reply.
“This letter is part of the coordination necessary so that CCHEN can access the additional information requested,” the company said, noting it was contingent on the regulator “complying with confidentiality requirements as the documents contain commercially sensitive information.”
The spat began in late 2019, shortly after Albemarle submitted a report to CCHEN describing its lithium reserves.
The regulator questioned the methodology and conclusions, but Albemarle declined to provide further details, saying U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules impeded it from doing so, filings show.
CCHEN rejected that initial argument, noting that the “requirements of foreign institutions are not enforceable or applicable in Chile.”
In September, Albemarle said in a letter to CCHEN that officials from the agency were welcome to visit their offices to view “the additional requested documentation,” but only if CCHEN agreed to “certain confidentiality requirements.”
CCHEN relies in part on miners to provide data on Atacama’s reserves. The deal it struck with Albemarle requires the miner to comply with its conditions or risk suspension of its export license.
Albemarle has claimed in recent years that it operates the world’s “best” lithium resources, while caring for the environment and local communities, including in the Atacama.
The company is one of two lithium miners permitted to operate on the coveted flat, home to nearly one-quarter the world’s current supply of the white metal. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Christian Plumb and David Gregorio)