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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

California State Exploration Process (4-CA-a)

State Exploration Process Process

4-CA-a.1 - Is the Proposed Exploration a Pre-Drilling or Drilling Activity?

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.

4-CA-a.2 - See County for Potential Permits

4-CA-a.3 - Will the Exploratory Project Contain 6 or Fewer Wells that are Greater than One Half Mile from any Commercially Productive Well?

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. (PRC 21065.5).

4-CA-a.4 - Initiate Well Development Process

A “geothermal field development project” is a development project as which is composed of geothermal wells, resource transportation lines, production equipment, roads, and other facilities which are necessary to supply geothermal energy to any particular heat utilization equipment for its productive life, all within an area delineated by the applicant. (Gov Code 65928.5).

A "geothermal exploratory project" is separate and distinct from a "geothermal field development project." (PRC 21090.1). If the project cannot be classified as a geothermal exploratory project, it may have to proceed as a geothermal field development project and the developer must initiate the Drilling and Well Development Process.

Drilling and Well Development:

4-CA-a.5 - Has DOGGR Delegated CEQA Responsibility to the Project County?

The California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Division 2, Chapter 2, Section 1683.7 allows counties in California to request the delegation of geothermal exploratory project CEQA Lead Agency responsibilities from the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to the County. As of October 2012, Imperial is the only county that has received this delegation.

Those wishing to explore/develop geothermal energy in Imperial County should refer to the Imperial County Geothermal Alternative Energy and Transmission Element. It contains the latest knowledge about local geothermal resources, current development technology, and County, State, and Federal policy regarding the exploration, development, and transmission of geothermal energy.

4-CA-a.6 - Initiate CEQA Process (DOGGR)

If the project falls under the definition of a "geothermal exploratory project," DOGGR is the lead agency for CEQA, unless DOGGR has delegated that responsibility to a county with its own geothermal element (e.g., Imperial County). (PRC 3715.5).

State Environmental Process:

4-CA-a.7 - Initiate CEQA Process (County)

State Environmental Process:

4-CA-a.8 - Is the Project Located on State Land?

For geothermal resources located on state land, the California State Lands Commission issues Geothermal Resources Prospecting Permits/Preference Right Leases and Non-Exclusive Exploration Permits.

4-CA-a.9 - Has the Land Been Classified as Containing Commercially Valuable Resources?

Lands that have not been classified by the California State Lands Commission as containing commercially valuable geothermal resources or mineral deposits are subject to application for a prospecting permit, pursuant to PRC Sections 6890, 6899, 6900 and 6904.

4-CA-a.10 - Geothermal Resources Prospecting Permit (Permit Application Form) or Preference Right Lease

The Geothermal Resources Prospecting Permit (PRC §6910) gives the permittee the exclusive right to explore the permit area for a period of two years with a possible two year extension. If geothermal resources are discovered in commercial quantities, the permittee has a preferential right to a geothermal lease. However, an applicant is required to submit a Prospecting Program containing a time schedule of specific prospecting activities. The Prospecting proposal must include the drilling of at least one geothermal well deep enough to determine the presence of commercially viable geothermal resources and measure the production potential.

(See California Geothermal Permitting Guide)

The Prospecting Permit also requires a deposit of $1 per acre within the boundaries of the land described in the application. (SLC Special Requirements for Prospecting Permits).

Application Form

4-CA-a.11 - Non-Exclusive Exploration Permit for Geothermal Resources (General Resource Lease/Permit Application Form)

The Non-exclusive Exploration Permit for Geothermal Resources (PRC §6909) does not give the permittee a preferential right to a geothermal lease, but allows for preliminary information gathering, geological, geophysical and geochemical exploration. It can include shallow temperature gradient holes from a truck-mounted rig. Depending on the location and the nature of the proposed activities, the SLC’s Division of Environmental Planning and Management would determine what type of CEQA documentation would be required.

(California Geothermal Permitting Guide)

4-CA-a.12 - Review Application Material and Determine Completeness

It is important to follow the application requirements carefully because the time line to process the application does not begin until the application is accepted as “complete”. The agency staff will review the materials for clarity and completeness after submittal. They may have questions or request additional information before determining the project is “complete” and ready to proceed.

(California Geothermal Permitting Guide)

4-CA-a.13 - Is the Application Complete?

4-CA-a.14 - Approved Permit

4-CA-a.15 - Notice of Intent to Drill, Bond, Agent Appointment, Drilling Fee

A Notice of Intention to Commence Drilling along with the drilling fee must be filed by the owner or operator of any well before starting to drill a well or reopen an abandoned well. Once again approval from DOGGR is necessary. If there has been no response after 10 working days without written notice from DOGGR the project is considered approved (Chapter 4, Div. 3 PRC §3724).

(California Geothermal Permitting Guide)

Notice of Intention to Drill a Geothermal Resources Well Form

4-CA-a.16 - Review Application Material and Determine Completeness

The agency staff will review the materials for clarity and completeness after submittal.

4-CA-a.17 - Is the Application Complete?

4-CA-a.18 - Permit to Conduct Geothermal Operations

Before an operator can drill a new well in California, the operator must receive Division approval, a Permit to Conduct Well Operations, before drilling can begin (i.e. set of conductor). The Notice and Permit to Drill (P-Report) must be posted at the drill site at all times. The permit lists all mandatory tests and inspections that Division inspectors must witness and approve.

(Dept. of Conservation Well Permitting)

Best Practices

DOGGR New Operator Information Web Page

Contact Information

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  • California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) laws are found in Chapter 4 of Divison 3 of the California Public Resources Code. California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources regulations are found in the California Code of Regulations Title 14, Division 2, Chapter 4
  • California Laws for Conservation of Geothermal Resources

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