RAPID/Geothermal/Alaska/Land Access

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Alaska Geothermal Land & Geothermal Resource Access(3-AK)

In order to develop geothermal resources in Alaska, developers must obtain a lease and, any required rights-of-way (ROW) easements to access state lands, including any necessary permits to encroach on existing state ROWs. The land access process differs significantly depending on the temperature of the resource the developer seeks to extract. In Alaska, geothermal resources, including hot brines and waters associated with the resource, are considered minerals for regulatory purposes. Alaska uses a temperature threshold to define geothermal resources. In order to be considered a “geothermal resource” the highest-temperature in a given geologic formation must be greater than 120 degrees Celsius.

Where the resource is greater than 120 degrees Celsius, the developer may apply for a geothermal lease by way of either a competitive bid lease sale or a non-competitive leasing process through the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) Division of Oil and Gas (DO&G). AS 41.06.060. Where the resource is not greater than 120 degrees Celsius (hereafter “low-temp”), developers may still be able to extract low-temp resources by obtaining a State Land Lease and/or Land Use Permit and otherwise complying with Alaska water laws for rules related to water appropriation and drilling water wells. The ADNR Division of Mining, Land & Water (ML&W) issues state land leases.

For either traditional utility-scale geothermal development or low-temp projects, developers can alternatively access the land via direct ownership. The ADNR ML&W conducts yearly state land sales, and also offers over-the-counter land for sale if land offered at a sale remains available.

Competitive Mineral Leasing Process

Alaska retains ownership of geothermal minerals regardless of whether the surface estate is owned privately or by the state. Alaska Statutes 38.05.181. The ADNR DO&G calls for applications to lease mineral tracts when disposing of the geothermal resources is in the “best interest” of the state. Alaska Statutes 38.05.035(e); 11 AAC 84.700. If the ADNR DO&G receives multiple applications for a mineral tract, the tract must be leased through the competitive bid process. The ADNR DO&G will select the method of bidding, issue public notice of the competitive bidding process, and issue a geothermal lease to the successful bidder. Title 11 Alaska Administrative Code 82.400 - 82.475 Competitive Bidding. Surface owners have a preferential right to match any successful bid within 60 days after receipt of notice of a successful bid. Alaska Statutes 38.05.181(a).

Geothermal leases have a primary term of 10 years and may be extended for an additional 5 years if the developer is engaged in drilling operations. Leases remain valid for the duration of commercial production, but the ADNR DO&G may renegotiate rentals/royalties 20 years after initial commercial production. Alaska Statutes 38.05.181(f). Prior to conducting activities pursuant to the geothermal lease, developers must receive approval for a plan of operations, plan of exploration, and plan of development.

Noncompetitive Mineral Leasing Process

If the ADNR DO&G calls for applications to lease and only the developer submits an application, the developer may obtain a geothermal prospecting permit and/or geothermal exploration permit through the noncompetitive process. 11 AAC 84.730. Prospecting permits have an initial term of two years and may be extended for one year if the developer exercised “reasonable diligence” in efforts to discover commercial geothermal resources. 11 AAC 84.730. If, during the initial or extended term of the prospecting permit, the developer can show that commercial quantities of geothermal resources are available on the land, the developer has a preferential right to a noncompetitive geothermal lease. The noncompetitive geothermal lease requires an approved plan of development and is generally equivalent to the geothermal lease described in the “Competitive Mineral leasing Process” section, above. 11 AAC 84.740

State Land Lease / Land Use Permit

A State Land Lease or a Land Use Permit may be necessary for developers to extract low-temp geothermal resources that are otherwise not regulated as geothermal resources. For traditional geothermal projects, a land use permit may be necessary for ancillary and minimally invasive activities conducted on state land and not part of a valid state geothermal lease or prospecting permit. In these cases, land use permits serve as an alternative way to access the land in lieu of the State Right of Way process, described below. Developers must submit a complete Land Use Permit Application Packet to the ADNR ML&W.

State Right of Way Process

For access roads, trails, ditches, field gathering or transmission lines across state land that is not a part of a geothermal or state land lease, developers may apply for a ROW easement or permit from the ADNR ML&W. AS 38.05.850. Developers may also obtain ROWs for production facilities necessary to recovery minerals from adjacent lands under valid lease.

Utility / Encroachment Permits

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) protects the state’s rights of way (ROWs) and facilitates and coordinates the safe and efficient operation of Alaska highways and other public ROWs. If components of a project will encroach on existing state ROWs, the DOT&PF has authority to approve permits for the construction of utility facilities within a state ROW.

More Information

Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance

Alaska Federal

Leasing Agency: Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Bureau of Land Management
Competitive Land Leasing: Yes, if multiple applications are received for a mineral tract.
Noncompetitive Land Leasing: Yes, if a single application is received for a mineral tract.