The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Geothermal Guidance website is the primary source of information related to permitting for geothermal power development projects. It contains a repository of reading material and information for the BLM’s geothermal program, including guidance for exploration development, frequently asked questions, and more.
Geothermal project development can be subject to numerous permits, authorizations, and other regulatory requirements in the United States at different project phases and levels of government. These permitting and regulatory requirements are necessary to address potential impacts to land use, water quality and usage, and much else, but may also act as non-technical barriers to geothermal project development, affecting project timelines, costs, and risks.
Explore the resources on this page to get helpful guidance on understanding and addressing the permitting process for geothermal power development projects.
The Potential in Permitting
As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2019 GeoVision analysis, the GeoVision Analysis Supporting Task Force Report: Barriers analyzed the non-technical barriers to geothermal deployment and potential improvement scenarios. The modeling in this report indicates that, through an expanded Categorical Exclusion for Exploration Drilling and a Centralized Permitting Office, the resulting project timeline reductions could lead conventional geothermal power capacity to achieve in excess of 12GW by 2050 – a 113% improvement over the Business as Usual (BAU) baseline.
More recently, legislation through the Energy Act of 2020 mandated the formation of centralized permitting offices under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Renewable Energy Coordination Office. BLM Information Bulletin 2022-040 outlines the structure of the coordination offices established across the western United States.
To learn more, explore the GeoVision analysis, which includes the examination of key regulatory, permitting, and land-access barriers to geothermal development.
Stakeholders embarking on a geothermal power development project must navigate environmental review requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as well as the federal, state, and local agencies’ regulatory roles. A geothermal power development project on federal land can require multiple phases of environmental review under NEPA, including land use planning, leasing, exploration, drilling, and utilization operations.
Review the GeoVision analysis for more information on federal regulations related to geothermal power development projects.
In addition to federal regulations, geothermal projects may be subject to environmental review at the state and local levels, for instance the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements. Tables 6 and 7 below from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Non-Technical Barriers to Geothermal Development in California and Nevada depict agency and tribal government roles in the geothermal regulatory process in Nevada and Imperial County, California.
For more on state and local regulations, read the Non-Technical Barriers to Geothermal Development in California and Nevada report, or explore the State Specific Resources on BLM’s Geothermal Guidance website.
For additional background information, research, and guidance for geothermal power development projects, refer to the resources at the following links:
- Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop (RAPID) Toolkit for Geothermal
- Geothermal Interagency Collaboration Task Force: Summary of Findings (2023) - This technical report summarizes key themes and recommendations this Task Force drew from Tribes, Tribal organizations, environmental NGOs, industry, and state and federal agencies during listening sessions, meetings, and stakeholder forums related to geothermal regulatory approvals and permitting. The Bureau of Land Management and GTO-co-led Renewable Energy Coordination Office (RECO) Interagency Geothermal Permitting Working Group will continue to incorporate Tribal, agency, developer, and environmental NGO input from the Task Force, with an overall aim to improve geothermal project permit coordination in support of the RECO and the Administration’s renewable energy targets on public land.
- OpenEI Geothermal Energy NEPA page
- Geothermal Data Repository: Search for ‘Permitting’ or ‘Non-Technical Barriers.’ Recent examples of GTO-funded non-technical barriers analysis work include:
- Geothermal Interagency Collaboration Task Force: Summary of Findings (2023)
- Fact sheet: Pathways to Overcome Geothermal Deployment Barriers (2023)
- Salton Sea Geothermal Development: Nontechnical Barriers to Entry - Analysis and Perspectives (2022)
- Non-Technical Barriers to Geothermal Development in California and Nevada (2022)
- Economic Impact of Permitting Timelines on Geothermal Power in California, Nevada, and Utah (2022)
- Nontechnical Barriers to Geothermal Development (2022)
- GeoVision Analysis Supporting Task Force Report: Barriers to Geothermal Deployment and Potential Improvement Scenarios (2020)
GTO's Publications and Technical Resources
Check out GTO’s collection of Technical Resources for more sources of federal and state permitting information, access to renewable energy data, cost and performance modeling tools, and much more to help in your geothermal permitting process.
You can also dig deeper into non-technical barrier reports, GTO’s strategic plan, market reports, and other publications on GTO’s Geothermal Publications page.