Geothermal power gets a boost

BLM finalizes plans to open 190 million acres to geothermal power.

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff January 7, 2009

The U.S. Dept. of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made official its plans to open more than 190 million acres of federal lands for leasing and potential development of geothermal energy resources.

On Dec. 18, 2008, the BLM published the “Record of Decision and Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments for Geothermal Leasing in the Western United States.” The publication followed the release of the Final Geothermal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which the Interior Dept. published in October 2008. That PEIS was open to a 60-day review by the governors of the affected states, but none of the governors objected to the proposed plan amendments.

The newly issued Record of Decision amends 114 BLM resource management plans and allocates about 111 million acres of BLM-managed public lands as open for leasing. An additional 79 million acres of National Forest System lands are also legally open for leasing, although the U.S. Forest Service will need to evaluate its land use plans and amend them as needed through a separate environmental review process. The Record of Decision was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 30, 2008.

The BLM’s Record of Decision and amendments of its resource management plans is intended to simplify the process for future geothermal leasing. From now on, when a BLM office receives a nomination or application for geothermal leasing, it will be able to quickly determine if the proposed leasing area falls within the scope of the new Record of Decision. If so, the office can proceed to evaluate the proposed leasing area without preparing further plan amendments or Environmental Impact Statements.

However, the BLM office will still need to conduct additional environmental reviews to comply with such laws as the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, and to assure that no thermal or hydrological features of nearby National Park System lands would be affected by geothermal power development on the proposed lease areas. Of course, any lands that are administratively closed to geothermal leasing, such as wilderness areas and national parks, will remain unavailable for leasing. By the way, until recently there was no official name for BLM-managed lands, but as of December, they finally have a name: the National System of Public Lands.