Geothermal Steam Act of 1970
To encourage the development of geothermal energy, the United States government passed the Geothermal Steam Act in 1970 allowing the leasing of land containing geothermal resources; however, Congress excluded any lands within the National Park System, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, and any other lands prohibited from leasing by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administrates the Act, issuing distinct authorizations for the exploration, development, production, and closeout of a geothermal resource. When a lessee first receives a lease, they have ten years to reach a certain level of development with the land; upon demonstrating such development, BLM extends their lease to 40 years, after which time they have the right to renew their lease. According to the Act, if the leasing of lands for the development of geothermal energy causes unnecessary degradation of public lands or resources, the BLM does not have the right to lease that land. The Act also made the BLM responsible for maintaining geothermal features within the National Park System.
Lands Subject to Leasing
The Act authorizes the Secretary to issue leases for development and utilization of geothermal steam and associated geothermal resources in: lands administered by the Secretary, including public, withdrawn and acquired lands; national forests or other lands administered by the Forest Service, including public, withdrawn and acquired lands; lands conveyed by the U.S. subject to a reservation to the U.S. of geothermal steam and associated geothermal resources. Geothermal leases for lands withdrawn or acquired to aid functions of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture may be issued only under terms and conditions that ensure the lands are used for their intended purposes. The Act prohibits issuance of geothermal leases on: lands in the National Park System; lands in a fish hatchery administered by the Secretary, wildlife refuge, wildlife range, game range, wildlife management area, waterfowl production area or lands acquired or reserved for the protection and conservation of fish and wildlife threatened with extinction; tribally or individually owned Indian trust or restricted lands. The Secretary also is prohibited from issuing leases on lands not subject to leasing under § 226-3 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (wilderness study areas). §§ 1002, 1014 and 1027.
The Act sets forth detailed provisions governing the issuance and administration of geothermal steam leases, including: competitive bidding for leases; rents and royalties; lease duration, acreage and termination; disposition of moneys from sales, bonuses, royalties and rentals. A lessee may use as much of the surface of the land covered by the lease as the Secretary finds necessary for the production, utilization and conservation of geothermal resources. The Act must be administered under the principles of multiple use of lands and resources. §§ 1003-1013 and 1015-1022.
Significant Thermal Features
The Act directs the Secretary to maintain a list of significant thermal features within National Park System units, including 16 specified units. The Secretary must maintain a monitoring program for these features and establish a research program on geothermal resources within units with these features. If the Secretary determines that exploration, development or utilization of lands subject to a lease application is reasonably likely to have a significant adverse effect on a significant thermal feature within a National Park System unit, the Secretary is prohibited from issuing the lease. If these activities are reasonably likely to have an adverse effect, the Secretary must include specified stipulations in leases or drilling permits to protect the significant thermal features. § 1026.
The Secretary must prescribe regulations to carry out the Act. The regulations may include provisions for: prevention of waste; development and conservation of geothermal and other natural resources; protection of the public interest; protection of water quality and other environmental qualities. § 1023.
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