RAPID/Geothermal/Oregon/Water Access & Rights
Oregon Geothermal Water Access & Water Rights(19-OR)
In Oregon, geothermal resources, including hot brines and waters associated with the resource, are considered minerals for regulatory purposes. However, the regulatory requirements differ depending on whether the temperature of the resources is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit. If the resource is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit (hereafter “low-temp”), ORS 537 governs the project and requires a Permit to Appropriate from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) unless the 5,000gal/day industrial/commercial use exception applies. If the resource is 250 degrees or greater, ORS 537.090 exempts the associated water from appropriation provisions of Oregon water law and the development is only subject to the provisions of ORS 522.
Oregon defines geothermal resources as: “the natural heat of the earth, the energy, in whatever form, below the surface of the earth present in, resulting from, or created by, or that may be extracted from, the natural heat, and all minerals in solution or other products obtained from naturally heated fluids, brines, associated gases, and steam, in whatever form, found below the surface of the earth, exclusive of helium or of oil, hydrocarbon gas or other hydrocarbon substances, but including, specifically:
- All products of geothermal processes, including indigenous steam, hot water and hot brines;
- Steam and other gases, hot water and hot brines resulting from water, gas, or other fluids artificially introduced into geothermal formations;
- Heat or other associated energy found in geothermal formations; and
- Any by-product derived from them.”
Under Oregon water law, “Geothermal fluid” is defined as: “any groundwater used for its thermal characteristics that is encountered in a well with a bottom hole temperature of less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit or any other fluid that is circulated within a well with a bottom hole temperature of less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit and used for its acquired thermal characteristics.” ORS 537.515(4).
Developers attempting to develop “low-temp” geothermal resources must abide by ORS 537.545, unless the development qualifies under an exception for industrial or commercial use in an amount not exceeding 5,000 gallons/day. OAR 690-230-0130. If the exception applies, a Permit to Appropriate is not required. Where the geothermal facility requires the use of water for ancillary purposes involved in geothermal development projects (cooling water, dust suppression, etc.), developers will likely need to obtain water through a surface water use permit, unless the aforementioned exception in OAR 690-230-0130 applies.
Permit to Appropriate Water
If appropriation is necessary, the developer must submit a Water Right Application Form to the OWRD. The OWRD will issue a draft order on the permit, allow for public comment and may hold a hearing. Subsequently, the OWRD will issue a final order approving or denying the water right permit, based on water policy formulated under ORS 537.505 to ORS 537.534. The developer must complete works in order to appropriate the water and put it to beneficial use. The OWRD will issue a certificate of water right for the amount shown to be put to beneficial use.
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
|Water Right Classification:||Prior Appropriation||||None. Water rights classifications are defined at the state-level.|
|Water Right Agency:||Oregon Water Resources Department|
|Geothermal Right Classification:||(Mineral and water) Geothermal resources are characterized in Oregon as water if the bottom hole temperature is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit and as a mineral if the bottom hole temperature is greater than 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Oregon claims ownership of all geothermal resources located on state land and some resources on land previously owned by the state, see ORS 273.775 to 273.790.||Geothermal resources include:
|Is a Water Right Required to Pump Geothermal Fluids?||Yes, if the bottom hole temperature is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.||Given the rights conveyed and the applicable definition of “geothermal resources,” developers do not need to obtain a state water right related to the extraction of hot water and brines that are part of the geothermal resource/formation. The right to extract water, brines, and fluids for the purposes of geothermal development is inherent in the rights conveyed under a federal geothermal lease.|