How To Speed Development of Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands

EMD-80-13: Published: Oct 26, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 1979.

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In an investigation of the Federal geothermal leasing program, GAO specifically examined the amount of geothermal lands owned and leased by the Federal Government and activities on these lands; reasons for the relatively slow development of geothermal energy; whether the Geothermal Act of 1979 contains provisions which are major impediments to geothermal development; geothermal development on Federal lands in California; and whether or not a major industry could be established on private and State-owned lands if the Federal Government did not encourage development on Federal lands.

Although the Geothermal Steam Act was enacted over 8 years ago, there is still no commercial geothermal production from a Federal lease. Delays in Federal leasing and economic and technological considerations are the major reasons for the slow pace of development. Of the 815,000 acres of the federally owned, known geothermal resource area (KGRA) offered to be leased for geothermal development, over 444,000 acres were under lease in June 1979. Another 2.25 million acres of other potentially valuable geothermal resource lands have also been leased. Most of this land has been under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Forest Service has made less progress in leasing its lands, especially in California. Although industry has shown considerable interest in leasing such California lands, no lease sales have been held and no leases have been issued. There was no indication that the pace of geothermal development was being deliberately slowed. However, about 2,000 noncompetitive lease applications were awaiting action as of June 30, 1979; half of this was Forest Service land. Over one-half million acres of land on which leases have been relinquished or terminated are not being made available for re-leasing. Provisions of the Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 concerning the acreage limitation and the method of designating KGRA's may act as impediments to future development. To expedite development GAO believes that the Government should give developers the option of accepting leases based on phased environmental assessments for exploration and development.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should assure that geothermal leasing is given appropriate priority within the Forest Service. Both the Forest Service and BLM should process lease applications in a more timely manner, and BLM should make available for re-leasing lands on which leases have been relinquished or terminated. The Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, and the Interior should implement those changes that can be made administratively. In addition, the Interagency Geothermal Coordinating Council should monitor the actions taken on these recommendations by the respective Departments and include in its 1980 annual report a summary of the specific steps taken.

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