Geothermal/Native American Concerns

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Geothermal Native American Concerns

Native American Concerns
Present, Potentially Affected

Native American concerns about geothermal development stem from the desire to protect their sacred lands, cultural resources, cultural practices and environmental justice. Four legislative pieces that protect Native American interests are:

  • The Archaeological Resources Protection Act (16 U.S.C 470aa-470mm, Public Law 96-95) was put in action to protect archaeological artifacts and sites located on public lands, including tribal lands. This act also enables linkages between government agencies, private landowners and professional archaeological associations to occur.
  • The National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq. P.L. 98-665) requires tribe consultation before a project begins, to determine whether or not development will cause detriment to scared artifacts, practices or lands. This act also created the National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmarks and State Historic Preservation Offices.
  • Native Americans have mixed feelings towards the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. 1701) as its multiple use clause encourages energy development, but also protects Native American practices.

U.S. National Park Service-Connecting with Native Americans

Native American Concerns Impacts & Mitigation

Not only may construction and operation procedures disturb Native American lands, but item discovery may also inhibit further development. Mitigate project impacts with the following techniques:

Human remains: If any human remains are discovered onsite, ongoing projects within 300 feet must cease. Seal off the area and cover exposed remains to prevent further impacts. If the remains are proven to be Native American, and the remains are found on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed land, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act procedures are enacted.

Artifacts: These are protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to discourage the tampering with or take of these items found on the proposed geothermal site, especially if they are of Native American origin.

Visual: If the geothermal project is inhibiting visual appeasement, and valid complaints from Native American tribes exist, proper building alterations can mitigate the adverse visual impacts. Pipelines, power plants, and wellheads are the most common structures to paint. Match the paint to the surroundings and use camouflage designs to mitigate visual obstruction.

Restoration: On BLM managed land, all reseeding occurs with weed-free and BLM approved mixtures. Check with the leasing agency for specific plot sizes and timelines appropriate for sparsely vegetated areas.

Cultural sites: Roads that access tribal facilities such as cultural sites or sacred grounds are to remain open and passable. This includes cultural springs, where project activities must be located at least 1,000 feet away to avoid negative impacts. To ensure the health of the spring is unaffected, water quality mitigation measures apply. (See water quality page)

Timelines: Some leasing permits allow emergency drilling, while others do not. Check with the permitting agency for restrictions. All projects must notify tribes 30 days before project activities begin and public comment must occur before the decision to drill is made. Time caps indicated by the nearest tribe may limit the project’s timeline, however, there are federal agencies that take on a negotiating role between industry and private parties. Mitigation measures between the two parties include noise abatement structures such are hay bales to absorb sound or revising the schedule to reduce the minimum time needed to gather underground reservoir data.

Factors Affecting Native American Concerns

The following factors impact the decision making process each tribe goes through to accept or decline a project on or near their reservation.

Economic Benefits and Energy Independence

Energy development provides an economic stimulus to tribes. Several reservations live with limited access to electricity and a growing job market. Geothermal projects can provide both. Tribes are interested in royalties and whether or not the energy will be transmitted elsewhere. Some tribes are looking to become energy independent with the Power Purchase Agreement. This agreement sells energy in blocks to consumers at Levelized costs. This predicts how long they will have an energy supply and where it is coming from.