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RAPID

Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

Geothermal Drilling Overview (5)

The development of geothermal resources requires the drilling of geothermal wells. The legal and regulatory framework for drilling on state or private land is controlled at the state level, while drilling on federal land is controlled at the federal level. The regulations for geothermal wells are sometimes modeled after the laws and regulations for oil and gas drilling. Since geothermal drilling has the potential to affect numerous environmental concerns, a developer will also have to consider federal and state environmental regulations when drilling a well.


On top of acquiring the correct drilling permits a developer needs to consider issues such as land and mineral ownership and right of way access. Possible permits and rights that a developer may require to drill a geothermal well include: land access permits, drilling permits, pit permits, pollution discharge permits, water permits or water rights, and geothermal rights or leases.

Drilling regulations are typically highly technical and designed to prevent the waste of resources. A developer may be limited in how they decide to develop a geothermal field and how a particular well is constructed. Environmental regulations may also dictate how a well is drilled and constructed in order to protect the environment, in particular water and groundwater resources.


Drilling Overview Process

5.1 - Review Potential Construction Permits

In addition to drilling permits, the developer may require other construction permits to drill and construct the well. These permits may include: road construction permits, drilling pad construction permits, construction permits for support facilities, etc.

Construction Permits Overview: 6


5.2 - 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.

5.3 to 5.4 - Is the Surface Federally Owned?

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

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

5.5 - State Drilling Process

A state drilling permit may be required regardless of who owns the surface estate or who owns the geothermal rights.

Alaska

In Alaska, a developer may need a lease to drill for geothermal resources. For more information, see: Drilling and Well Development:
5-AK-a

California

In California, the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil and Gas administers geothermal well drilling activities on lands within California. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-CA-a

Colorado

In Colorado, a developer may need to obtain a permit from the State Engineer before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-CO-a

Hawaii

In Hawaii, a developer seeking to drill, modify, or modify the use of a well for exploration or development must receive a drilling or modification permit prior to conducting the operation. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-HI-a

Idaho

In Idaho, a developer may need to obtain a permit or lease before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-ID-a

Montana

In Montana, a developer may need to obtain a permit or lease before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-MT-a

New Mexico

In New Mexico, a developer may need to obtain a permit from New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-NM-a

Nevada

In Nevada, a developer may need to obtain a permit from the Nevada Division of Minerals before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-NV-a

Oregon

In Oregon, a developer may need to obtain a permit before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-OR-a

Texas

In Texas, a developer may need to obtain a permit from the Railroad Commission of Texas before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-TX-a

Utah

In Utah, a developer may need to obtain a permit from before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-UT-a

Washington

In Washington, a developer may need to obtain a permit from before drilling a well for geothermal resources. For more information, see:

Drilling and Well Development:
5-WA-a

5.6 to 5.9 - Who Owns the Surface?

If the geothermal rights are federally owned, then regardless of who owns the surface the developer will have to initiate the BLM Drilling Application Process.

Drilling Application Process:
5-FD-a

If both the geothermal rights and surface estate are federally owned the developer will not need to go through the Federal ROW Process for drilling activities.

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 right of way agreement.

If the geothermal rights are federally owned but the surface is owned by the state the developer will have to initiate the State ROW Process.

Alaska

In Alaska, the Alaska Division of Mining Land and Water oversees land use within the state and issues right-of-ways, easements or permits to use state lands. For more information, see: State Right-of-Way Process:
3-AK-b

California

In California, a developer will need to obtain a right-of-way lease from the California State Lands Commission (Commission) if any portion of the project, such as roads, power lines, or pipelines, will cross over or occupy certain state land under the jurisdiction of the Commission. For more information, see:

State Land Right-of-Way:
3-CA-b

Colorado

In Colorado, the Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners may grant rights-of-way for, among other things, electric power lines for the operation of utilities. For more information, see:

State Land Right-of-Way:
3-CO-b

Hawaii

In Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Engineering Division oversee mineral leasing on State Lands in Hawaii. For more information, see:

State Land Access Lease:
3-HI-b

Idaho

In Idaho, a developer must obtain a right-of-way from the Idaho Department of Lands for a project located on State lands. For more information, see: State Land Access Permits:
3-ID-b

Montana

In Montana, developers seeking to utilize state lands not included within a geothermal lease must submit an application for a lease, right-of-way, or easement to the Montana State Land Board. For more information, see: State Land Lease:
3-MT-b

New Mexico

In New Mexico, a developer may need a right-of-way easement for development on or over State lands. For more information, see: State Right-of -Way Easement:
3-NM-b

Nevada

In Nevada, a developer seeking a lease or a right-of-way on State lands must obtain an Application for Authorization to Use State Land from the Nevada Division of State Lands. For more information, see: State Land Access:
3-NV-b

Nevada

In Oregon, a developer may need an easement to develop on State lands from the Oregon Department of State Lands. For more information, see: Easements on Trust and Non-Trust Land:
3-OR-b

Texas

In Texas, a developer may need a lease from the Texas General Land Office to use State owned land. For more information, see: State Land Access:
3-TX-b

Utah

In Utah, a developer may need an easement from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to develop on State lands. For more information, see: State Land Easement:
3-UT-b

Washington

In Washington, a developer must obtain a permit or lease from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to access State lands. For more information, see: Land Access Permits:
3-WA-b

5.10 - Does the State or County Require Permits, Regardless of Land and Geothermal Ownership?

If the state or county requires drilling permits, regardless of land and mineral ownership then see 5.5 (above).

5.11 - Proceed with Project



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