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Washington State Exploration (4-WA-a)

Developers desiring to conduct geothermal exploration activities on state lands in Washington must obtain a Drilling Permit from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WSDNR) unless the developer will only conduct non-drilling activities. Developers only interested in non-drilling exploration activities on state lands must still obtain a Land Use License from the WSDNR. After non-drilling exploration pursuant to a Land Use License, developers may then choose to elevate their exploration activities and obtain a Drilling Permit. In Washington geothermal resources are regulated under RCW 78.60 Geothermal Resources and WAC 332-17 Geothermal Drilling Rules and Regulations. The WSDNR is responsible for regulating geothermal resources.

State Exploration Process

4-WA-a.1 to 4-WA-a.2 – Will Drilling be conducted in the Exploration Process?

Developers proposing any kind of exploration activities amounting to drilling, including a core hole to gather geothermal data such as heat flow, temperature gradients, and rock conductivity must obtain a drilling permit for each core hole by completing the Geothermal Exploration Permit Application. RCW 78.60.070. For a complete description of the drilling process, see Drilling and Well Development:

To obtain a Geothermal Exploration Permit the developer must submit a Geothermal Exploration Permit Application and associated fees and documents to the WSDNR. The WSDNR has created Instructions for Geothermal Exploration Permit.

The WSDNR issues the Geothermal Exploration Permit. The developer is required to abide by the rules and regulations set out in RCW 78.60 Geothermal Resources and WAC 332-17 Geothermal Drilling Rules and Regulations related to the drilling and development of the well.

4-WA-a.3 to 4-WA-a.4 Negotiate Terms of Land Use License or Special Use Lease

Developers interested in conducting non-drilling exploration activities must consult with the WSDNR and negotiate the terms of a Land Use License. As there is no formal application process, developers will inform the WSDNR of the requested activities under the license during consultation and (if permitted) the WSDNR will issue a Land Use License with any attached conditions and terms. Generally, Land Use Licenses are for terms up to (but not to exceed) one year, revocable at will, and cost $250 to $500.

In the unique scenario where a developer is interested in conducting non-drilling exploration activities for a term longer than one year, the WSDNR may issue a Special Use Lease. Developers should plan accordingly and attempt to obtain a Special Use Lease from the outset as there is no guarantee the WSDNR would convert a Land Use License into a Special Use Lease simply because the developer needs additional time. In contrast to the Land Use License, a Special Use Lease is not revocable at will (only by breach or default of a party as contemplated in the agreement), may last for a longer term, and generally has greater costs and restrictions associated with the agreement.

4-WA-a.5 to 4-WA-a.6 Conduct Non-drilling Exploration Activities

After executing either a Land Use License or Special Use Lease, the developer may conduct the permitted exploration activities under the terms of the license. If, after positive findings, the developer is interested in conducting drilling exploration, the process is the same as described above in 4-WA-a.2.

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