Geothermal/Cultural Resources

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Geothermal Cultural Resources

Cultural Resources
Present, Potentially Affected

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was the first piece of legislature to provide federal protection for cultural resources and establish that archeological sites are important public resources. Subsequently, Congress enacted four more acts (National Historic Preservation Act Federal Land Policy and Management Act American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act) that strive to protect historical places and cultural resources from degradation.

History is important because it can give archaeologists answers to the following questions:

  • Where did the group of people come from?
  • What was the life expectancy of the people who lived here?
  • What did they eat?
  • What daily practices did they partake in?
  • What kind of climate and weather patterns occurred at that time?
  • What happened to the people on this land?
  • How big was their geographical radius?
  • What kind of technological advancements were made?
  • How did they think?

This information merits a certain level of appreciation for all the inventions and discoveries that have led to today’s successes. History can strengthen a human’s comprehension of what current generations are capable of doing. This information can then be used to solve current problems.

Cultural Resources Impacts & Mitigation

Geothermal development can have a number of impacts on culturally significant resources, through construction activities such as:

  • Land disturbance
  • Erosion
  • Changes in runoff patterns
  • Hydrological alterations and project emissions (sediment, runoff and water releases)
  • Visual obstruction

Hiring an archaeologist in the design phase that can further assess the area for cultural significance can mitigate these impacts. Archaeological findings can dictate the best placement for well pads, access roads and water diversion. A finding may also reveal the proposed site location is a listed property on the National Register of Historic Places, or obstructs views of a National Historic Trail. Under these conditions, site relocation is preferred.

If the project is on Native America land, meeting early with Native American governments will help determine where sacred landscapes and traditional cultural practices occur.

Factors Affecting Cultural Resources

The factors below are key to the approval of geothermal development on or near lands containing cultural resources. Around the U.S., there are several protected cultural sites that are governed by the Antiquities Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Indian and Alaska Native Lands

Geothermal site proposals occasionally occur on Indian and Alaska Native Lands. Whether or not the project is allowed depends on each tribe. Due to the spiritual significance of sacred grounds, practices, resources, and artifacts, tribes aim to protect these areas first. Tribes also view sovereignty as their greatest value. The public sector may be viewed as a threat to the unique resources found on Indian and Alaska Native lands.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) governs Indian reservations. The BIA provides services to federally recognized tribes and assists in the management of controversial surface acres and subsurface mineral estates. Tasked with building positive relationships between tribes and the federal government, the BIA creates laws and regulations that encourage self-governance and self-determination of Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Historical Places and Artifacts

The National Register of Historic Places Program protects properties of significance and uses the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to mobilize public support. To be listed, each property must be evaluated and meet specific criteria. It includes surveying the property’s:

  • Age and condition (at least 50 years old and mirror’s its original image)
  • Significance
  • What kind of events, activities and people frequented this place?
  • Does it possess rare architecture, engineering feats, or landscape history?
  • Are there archeological surveys that point to major discoveries?

To list a property, there is a nomination process that includes a form and notifying the surrounding area officials. If the National Park Service approves the property, it is added to the online database. Listing ensures historical documentation and only secures the site’s protection from human degradation. All other advantages are taken case by case.

More times than not, geothermal leasing and drilling will not be allowed on or near a place that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Even if a site is not listed, but has significant artifacts, the same result could occur.