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Federal Geothermal Exploration Permitting(4-FD)

Developers of geothermal projects on federal lands must comply with varying exploration permitting requirements depending on which federal agency manages the land. Generally, developers will obtain a Notice of Intent to Conduct Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations (Form 3200-009) (NOI) from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in order to conduct exploration operations on federal lands. If the lands are located in Nevada, then developers have the option to complete a pre-application process to streamline the permitting process. Developers seeking to conduct exploration operations on land managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) which is unleased will be required to obtain an Exploration Permit directly from the USFS. Developers seeking to conduct exploration operation on lands managed by USFS which is lease must obtain an Exploration Permit from the BLM.

Developers must obtain approval of a NOI from the BLM before any (non-casual use) exploration operations are conducted. Exploration operations covered by an NOI include any activity related to the search for evidence of geothermal resources, where the developer is physically present on the land and their activities may cause damage to those lands 43 CFR 3200.1. Exploration operations include, but are not limited to, geophysical operations, drilling temperature gradient wells. 43 CFR 3200.1. The NOI, once approved, is tantamount to a permit to explore. Any additional drilling beyond a temperature gradient well required to confirm the existence of geothermal resources will require an Approved Geothermal Drilling Permit. The BLM may approve exploration on BLM-managed lands and lands managed by another federal agency. The BLM must complete the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act before they can approve an NOI or GDP. Developers are required to obtain a bond approved by the BLM before starting any exploration operations.

If the developer’s project is located in Nevada, then they may choose to use an exploration pre-application process. This process is intended to streamline the NOI procedures to avoid delays that may result from an incomplete application. Developers are required to submit a description of the proposed action and a map of the proposed location to the BLM for pre-application review. Developers are required to participate in a pre-application meeting to discuss the proposed exploration activity and identify specific information or environmental surveys that will be required. After the pre-application meeting, an on-site evaluation is required to evaluate site-specific conditions and identify additional surveys and conditions of approval of an NOI.

Developers must obtain a geothermal exploration permit from the USFS to conduct exploration activities on un-leased Forest Service Lands. Developers must submit a Notice of Intent to Conduct Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations (Form 3200-009) (NOI) to conduct geothermal resource exploration operations to the USFS. The USFS must complete the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act before they can approve the NOI.

Operation and Completion

Developers must comply with BLM rules for conducting exploration operations 43 CFR 3252 and submit a completion report at the conclusion of operations 43 CFR 3253 if they are to be conducted on BLM managed public lands. However, if the developer conducts exploration operations on lands in which they do not hold a geothermal lease, then they are not required to submit data to the BLM. Upon completion of exploration operations, the developer must send the BLM a complete and signed Notice of Completion of Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations (Form 3200-010), regardless of whether the developer is the lessee on the lands explored. 43 CFR 3253.11.

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Determine Which Federal Permits Apply

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