RAPID/Geothermal/Washington/Land Access

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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Washington Geothermal Land & Geothermal Resource Access(3-WA)

In order to develop geothermal resources in Washington, developers must obtain a lease and, any required right of way (ROW) easements or permits to encroach on or access existing state ROWs.

The state of Washington defines geothermal resources as sui generis: “being neither a mineral resource nor a water resource and as such are declared to be the private property of the holder of the title to the surface land above the resource, unless the geothermal resources have been otherwise reserved by or conveyed to another person or entity.” RCW 78.60.040. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WSDNR) is still developing procedures for geothermal leasing, but the process is expected to be closely related to the process for leasing state lands for oil and natural gas development. The rules and regulations for oil and natural gas development, including leasing, are outlined in RCW 79.14 Mineral, Coal, Oil and Gas Leases. Currently, to develop geothermal resources on Washington state trust lands developers must obtain a State Land Lease by submitting an application to the WSDNR in accordance with RCW 79.13 Land Leases and WAC 332-22 State Land Leasing Program Rules. The WSDNR will either offer the land for a public lease auction or negotiate the terms for a land lease with the developer.

Developers must obtain a rights-of-way (ROW) permit or easement from the WSDNR for construction or other activities on or over state lands. The relevant ROW process is regulated under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 79.36.350 (movement of valuable materials across state lands) and RCW 79.36.510 (utility lines). Ultimately, the WSDNR determines whether to grant an easement or permit. Permits are a permissive use of the land, revocable at will, and may not be assigned, transferred, or inherited. Easements are a legal grant of property rights that are assignable, transferable, inheritable, and non-revocable unless there are terms in the easement allowing termination or by mutual consent of both parties. The WSDNR permit/easement is not applicable to transmission lines within state highway ROW.

For the development of transmission lines within state highway ROWs, Washington grants a "utility permit" and/or "utility franchise" that functions as a Transmission Line Right of Way. A utility permit or franchise is required for occupancy of highway right of way by facilities, including private lines. The process is governed by WAC 468-34-160 and administered by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Depending on the access required, developers may need to obtain either a permit or franchise from the WSDOT. A franchise is necessary for longitudinal occupancy of highway rights of way. A permit is necessary for any occupancy of the highway rights of way other than by franchise. WAC 468-34-110(16)&(17).

More Information

Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance

Washington Federal

Leasing Agency: Washington State Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Land Management
Competitive Land Leasing: Washington State Department of Natural Resources may offer the land for a public lease auction.
Noncompetitive Land Leasing: Washington State Department of Natural Resources may negotiate terms for a land lease with a prospective developer.

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