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Exploration Application USFS (4-FD-c)

This flowchart illustrates the application process for an exploration permit on Forest Service Lands through the United States Forest Service.

Much of the geothermal leasing process (to include exploration) is accomplished in close coordination with the Bureau of Land Management. There is a formal Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies that memorializes the formal coordination process.

According to the USFS Geothermal webpage, the role of the USFS in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is to provide opportunities for exploration, development and production of geothermal resources. The USFS:

  • Processes exploration permit applications on unleased National Forest System lands;
  • Makes leasing decisions and reviews leasing decisions using the NEPA process. Decisions are used to consent, or to deny consent, for the issuing of federal geothermal leases by the BLM;
  • Cooperates with BLM's actions in processing applications for lease activities such as drilling, installing pipelines and power lines and constructing geothermal power plants; and
  • Provides the BLM with reclamation standards.

Under Paragraph (V)(A)(3) of the [MOU]:

"If an operator proposes to conduct exploration operations on unleased FS lands, the application is submitted directly to the FS, which has the lead to conduct any necessary NEPA review and decide if the permit application should be approved and, if approved, what conditions of approval will be attached. If an operator proposes to conduct exploration operations on leased FS lands the permit application is submitted to the BLM, which is the lead agency for permit review. In this case, the BLM will coordinate the NEPA review with FS, which will propose permit conditions of approval involving surface issues. The BLM will determine if the permit application should be approved and, if approved, what conditions of approval will be attached to the permit."

Exploration Application USFS Process

4-FD-c.1 - NOI to Conduct Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations

Notice of Intent to Conduct Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations (Form 3200-009). The NOI requires:

  • The contact information of the applicant, operator and contractors;
  • A description of the operations to be conducted; and
  • Identification of the affected lands.

See also FS Form 2800-16 and USFS Special Uses Permit webpage.

4-FD-c.2 to 4-FD-c.4 - Is the Application Complete?

A pre-application meeting is a key component to ensuring all parties have identified the required materials for a complete application. During the pre-application meeting a staff member discusses the proposal, potential land use conflicts, application procedures and qualifications, probable time frames, fees, bonding requirements, additional coordination with other agencies, environmental reports and field reviews with the applicant.

The United States Forest Service will notify the applicant if additional information is required.

4-FD-c.5 - Are the Lands Open to Geothermal Exploration?

Generally geothermal exploration cannot occur in Wilderness Areas, wilderness study areas, or areas of critical environmental concern.

See University of Nevada webpage on geothermal leasing on federal lands.

The Programmatic EIS project produced a presentation with a map of open and closed lands in the western states.

4-FD-c.6 - Is there an Active Geothermal Lease

The local Bureau of Land Management field office should be able to inform the applicant whether there is an active geothermal lease in the area already. Before the exploration process on USFS lands may go forward, the applicant must have a joint meeting with USFS and BLM.

4-FD-c.7 - Is the Applicant the Lessee

If the exploration is merely casual use, the BLM's process does not apply. A permit must be obtained from the USFS. See 43 CFR 3250.10(b)(4).

Exploration Application Process BLM:

4-FD-c.8 - Application Coordination Meeting

Before the environmental review, interested parties must coordinate necessary information to facilitate an efficient environmental review. At a minimum, the meeting should include the developer, United States Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

4-FD-c.9 - Begin NEPA Process

Environmental review under NEPA is necessary for any major federal action. However, there is a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Geothermal Leasing in the Western United States. The PEIS covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Bureau of Land Management-NEPA Process:

4-FD-c.10 - Approved Geothermal Exploration Permit

After the National Environmental Policy Act review is completed, including any appeals periods, the permit is typically issued within 10 days.

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