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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Geothermal Exploration in California

Regulatory Information Overviews

Search for other summaries about Geothermal regulations and permitting.


At a Glance

Jurisdiction: California

Exploration Permit Agency
County or Local Government

Exploration Permit
If the proposed activity does not include the drilling of exploration wells (e.g., Temperature Gradient Wells) any required permits will be handled at the local/county level. See 4-CA-a for additional information.

Exploration Permit Agency
California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources

Exploration Permit
A “geothermal exploratory project” is a project as defined in Section 21065 composed of not more than six wells and associated drilling and testing equipment, whose chief and original purpose is to evaluate the presence and characteristics of geothermal resources prior to commencement of a geothermal field development project as defined in Section 65928.5 of the Government Code. Wells included within a geothermal exploratory project must be located at least one-half mile from geothermal development wells which are capable of producing geothermal resources in commercial quantities. [1]

Contacts/Agencies: California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources

State Exploration Process

When seeking to conduct geothermal exploration activities that include drilling exploration wells, developers must complete the exploration permitting process to obtain a Geothermal Resources Prospecting Permit. The Geothermal Resources Prospecting Permit gives the permittee the exclusive right to explore the permit area for a period of two years with a possible two year extension. For exploration activities that do not involve drilling exploration wells, developers may obtain a Non-Exclusive Exploration Permit for preliminary information gathering, geological, geophysical and geochemical exploration. Holders of prospecting permits may obtain, upon discovery of a geothermal resource, a preferential right to a geothermal lease. Prior to drilling a new well, developers must also obtain a Notice of Intention to Commence Drilling (NOI) and a Permit to Conduct Well Operations as required by the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). California’s CEQA process must be followed, with DOGGR as the lead agency, unless explicitly delegated to a local authority. The geothermal exploration permitting process is governed by both California Public Resources Code Division 3, Chapter 4 and California Code of Regulations Title 14, Division 2, Chapter 4.

Local Exploration Process

not available

Policies & Regulations


  1. California PRC Section 21065.5, Definitions for Geothermal Exploratory Project (2013).

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