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RAPID

Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Geothermal Exploration Permitting Overview (4)

Geothermal exploration can take numerous forms, from non-invasive techniques that cause little or no disturbance to the land to invasive techniques that resemble full drilling and construction operations. Non-invasive exploration typically requires fewer and less extensive permits compared to invasive exploration, which may require the developer to obtain permits that would be similar to those required for a fully operational geothermal plant.


Non-invasive techniques are those that cause little or no disturbance to the land. Examples include satellite or airplane flyover surveys, seismic surveys, magnetic surveys, and gravity surveys. Techniques like flyover surveys may require no permits at all; while, techniques like seismic surveys may require land access and exploration permits depending on whether the land and/or geothermal rights are owned by federal, state, tribal, or private parties. Invasive techniques are those that cause a significant disturbance to the land. Examples include reflection seismology that requires explosives, core hole drilling, and temperature gradient wells. Invasive techniques may require the developer to obtain surface and mineral rights or a geothermal lease, land access permits, construction permits, drilling permits, and water rights. In addition, a developer may be required to pay royalties on production from exploratory wells.

The types of techniques used and permits required will depend on where the exploration takes place. Issues, including land access, geothermal leasing, exploration regulation, and drilling regulation all vary depending on whether the land and/or geothermal rights are owned by federal, state, tribal, or private parties.


Exploration Permitting Overview Process

4.1 and 4.2 - Will the Developer Engage in Coproduction on an Existing Well?

If the developer plans to engage in coproduction on an existing oil and gas well then additional exploration permits will not be needed. However, other legal issues may arise with respect to the geothermal resources. Geothermal resources may be considered mineral rights, water rights, mineral and water rights, or sui generis depending on which state the project is located in and who controls the mineral estate.

4.3 - Who Owns the Geothermal Rights?

The federal government holds geothermal ownership wherever it holds the mineral estate. Under 30 USC § 1001, geothermal resources means:

  1. All products of geothermal processes, embracing indigenous steam, hot water and hot brines;
  2. Steam and other gases, hot water and hot brines resulting from water, gas, or other fluids artificially introduced into geothermal formations;
  3. Heat or other associated energy found in geothermal formations; and
  4. Any byproduct derived from them;

“Byproduct” means any mineral or minerals (exclusive of oil, hydrocarbon gas, and helium) which are found in solution or in association with geothermal steam and which have a value of less than 75 per centum of the value of the geothermal steam or are not, because of quantity, quality, or technical difficulties in extraction and production, of sufficient value to warrant extraction and production by themselves.

In most situations geothermal resources owned by the federal government are managed by the BLM.

4.4 to 4.5 - Who Owns the Surface?

If the surface is federally owned the developer may require a federal right of way (ROW) permit.

Right-of-Way Access:
3-FD-c

4.6 Obtain Surface Owner Agreement

Where the surface is privately owned, a developer must negotiate with and obtain a Surface Owner Agreement from the landowner.

4.7 State Land Leasing and Land Access

If the surface is owned by the state then the developer must initiate the State Land Leasing and Land Access (ROW).

Alaska

In Alaska, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources oversees the geothermal resource leasing process. For more information, see: State Competitive Mineral Leasing Process:
3-AK-a

California

In California, the California State Lands Commission is responsible for the management and administration of geothermal resources contained in state land. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-CA-a

Colorado

In Colorado, if the project is on locally managed land geothermal lease arranges must be made with the locality. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-CO-a

Hawaii

In Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Engineering Division oversees mineral leasing on reserved lands. For more information, see: Reserved Land Leasing Process:
3-HI-a

Idaho

In Idaho, the Idaho Department of Lands oversees mineral leasing on state lands. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-ID-a

Montana

In Montana, a developer must obtain a geothermal lease from the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-MT-a

Nevada

In Nevada, geothermal resources belong to the surface property owner. For more information, see: State Land Access:
3-NV-a

New Mexico

In New Mexico, a developer must obtain a geothermal lease from the New Mexico State Land Office to develop geothermal resources on State lands. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-NM-a

Oregon

In Oregon, the state owns all geothermal resources located on state land and some resources on land previously owned by the state. A developer must obtain a geothermal lease to develop geothermal resources in the State. For more information, see: Geothermal Lease:
3-OR-a

Texas

In Texas, the Texas General Land Office manages leasing of State lands. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-TX-a

Washington

In Washington, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources issues geothermal leases. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-WA-a

4.8 - State Exploration Process

If the geothermal rights are not federally owned, then regardless of who owns the surface estate the developer needs to initiate the State Exploration Process.

Alaska In Alaska, may need a permit or lease to conduct geothermal activities on State lands. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-AK-a

California

In California, a developer may need a permit or lease for geothermal exploration activities on State land. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-CA-a

Colorado

In Colorado, a developer must obtain a Geothermal Exploration Lease from Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners for geothermal exploration activities on State land. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-CO-a

Hawaii

In Hawaii, a developer is required to obtain a Geothermal Exploration Permit from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Engineering Division for geothermal exploration activities on State land. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-HI-a

Idaho

In Idaho, no permit is needed for general geothermal exploration on private or State lands. However, a Well Drilling Permit is required for any drilling activities that will encounter groundwater. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-ID-a

Montana

In Montana, a developer needs a permit or lease for geothermal exploration activities on State lands. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-MT-a

New Mexico

In New Mexico, a developer needs a permit or lease for geothermal exploration activities on State lands. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-NM-a

Nevada

In Nevada, a developer needs a Geothermal Exploration Permit for geothermal exploration activities on State lands. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-NV-a

Oregon

In Oregon, a developer needs a permit or lease for geothermal exploration activities on State lands. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-OR-a

Texas

In Texas, geothermal exploration on state lands or lands with State interests requires either Prospect Permit or a Geothermal Lease from the Texas General Land Office. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-TX-a

Utah In Utah, an Exploration Permit is required to conduct geothermal exploration activities on State lands. For more information, see:

State Exploration Process:
4-UT-a

4.9 to 4.11 - Who Owns the Surface?

If the geothermal rights are federally owned but the surface is privately owned then the developer will have to negotiate with the private land owner to obtain a Surface Owner Agreement.

If the geothermal rights are federally owned but the surface is owned by the state the developer will have to initiate the State Land Leasing and Land Access (ROW).

Alaska

In Alaska, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources oversees the geothermal resource leasing process. For more information, see: State Competitive Mineral Leasing Process:
3-AK-a

California

In California, the California State Lands Commission is responsible for the management and administration of geothermal resources contained in state land. For more information, see:

State Geothermal Lease:
3-CA-a

Colorado

In Colorado, if the project is on locally managed land geothermal lease arranges must be made with the locality. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-CO-a

Hawaii

In Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Engineering Division oversees mineral leasing on reserved lands. For more information, see: Reserved Land Leasing Process:
3-HI-a

Idaho

In Idaho, the Idaho Department of Lands oversees mineral leasing on state lands. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-ID-a

Montana

In Montana, a developer must obtain a geothermal lease from the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-MT-a

Nevada

In Nevada, geothermal resources belong to the surface property owner. For more information, see: State Land Access:
3-NV-a

New Mexico

In New Mexico, a developer must obtain a geothermal lease from the New Mexico State Land Office to develop geothermal resources on State lands. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-NM-a

Oregon

In Oregon, the state owns all geothermal resources located on state land and some resources on land previously owned by the state. A developer must obtain a geothermal lease to develop geothermal resources in the State. For more information, see: Geothermal Lease:
3-OR-a

Texas

In Texas, the Texas General Land Office manages leasing of State lands. For more information, see:

State Geothermal Lease:
3-TX-a

Utah

In Utah, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration issues geothermal lease. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-UT-a

Washington

In Washington, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources issues geothermal leases. For more information, see: State Geothermal Lease:
3-WA-a

If both the geothermal rights and surface estate are federally owned then see 4.12 (below).

4.12 to 4.13 Does the State Require Permits, Regardless of Land and Geothermal Ownership?

Regardless of the land and geothermal (mineral) ownership, some states have agreements in place with the federal government in that developers must still go through the state permitting process for developing geothermal wells. One example is the state of Washington: Drilling and Well Development:
5-WA-a

4.14 to 4.16 - Is There a Lease in Place?

If the surface estate is federally owned and a lease is in place see 4.17 (below).

If no lease is in place and the surface management agency is the United States Forest Service (USFS) then the developer needs to initiate the USFS Exploration Application Process.

Exploration Application Process USFS:
4-FD-c

If the surface estate is managed by the BLM or another federal agency see 4.17 (below).


4.17 - BLM Exploration Application Process

If the federal government owns the geothermal rights then the developer needs to initiate the BLM Exploration Application Process.

Exploration Application Process BLM:
4-FD-a




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