Salt Wells Geothermal Exploratory Drilling Program EA (DOI-BLM-NV-C010-2009-0006-EA)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Carson City District Office (CCDO), has prepared this environmental assessment (EA) to analyze impacts to the human and natural environment resulting from additional exploratory drilling for geothermal resources in the Carson Lake Basin Project LLC (Vulcan Power) Salt Wells lease area (project area), near Fallon, Nevada.
In July 2002, the BLM Carson City Field Office (CCFO) completed an EA for leasing of geothermal resources (BLM 2002). The Finding of No Significant Impacts (FONSI) for the geothermal leasing EA was signed on September 6, 2002. An addendum to the FONSI was signed on March 6, 2003 following tribal consultation on the Salt Wells Geothermal leasingarea. After the amended FONSI was signed, the BLM issued geothermal resource leases to Vulcan Power for seven parcels in the Salt Wells geothermal leasing area located ten miles east of Fallon, Nevada and five miles south of US Highway 50. The project area encompasses 15,354 acres of BLM and US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) land.
In February 2007, the BLM Carson Field Office completed an EA (EA-NV-030-07-05) for exploratory drilling of ten wells in the project area at locations now identified as Pads 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 13 (see Figure 1). The FONSI was signed February 6, 2007. Since then, Vulcan has constructed 2.8-acre pads at these locations and graveled the main access roads from Highway 50 through the lease to these pads. Vulcan drilled two temperature gradient holes (86-15 O on Pad 1 and 17-16 O on Pad 3); conducted seismic, gravity and magnetotelluric surveys; and drilled deep exploration wells at Pads 6 and 8 and binary wells at Pads 1, 2, 4, and 7 in the summer and fall of 2008.
Vulcan is seeking BLM approval to drill and test exploration wells at ten new locations (Pads 10, 11, 12, 14a, 15 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20), identified from the initial exploratory activity. Access to these drilling locations would be from US Highway 50 through the existing road system on the Vulcan Salt Wells leases. Table 1-1, shows the lease parcels, pad numbers, and proposed well numbers for the new drilling locations. If exploration is successful, Vulcan would drill production wells at these locations.
Geothermal resources are underground reservoirs of hot water or steam created by heat from the earth. In some locations, geothermal steam and hot water can reach the surface of the earth in the form of hot springs, geysers, mud pots, or steam vents. In other areas, the geothermal resources remain underground, and are reached by drilling wells. The heat energy can be used for generating electricity or for other direct uses, such as heating greenhouses and aquaculture operations and/or for dehydrating vegetables.
The Department of the Interior, consistent with Section 2 of the Mining and Mineral Policy Act (MMPA) of 1970 and Sections 102(a)(7), (8), and (12) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976, encourages the development of mineral resources, including geothermal resources, on federal lands. The Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 (30 USC §1001 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (43 CFR Part 3200) provide regulatory guidance for geothermal leasing by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
These regulations identify four stages of geothermal resource development within a lease: (1) exploration, (2) development, (3) production, and (4) closeout. Each of the four stages under the lease requires separate BLM authorization and compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) when ground-disturbing activities are proposed.
A geothermal lease typically grants the lessee access to geothermal resources in the lease area for a period of 10 years. The terms of the lease require the lessee to show a certain level of diligence toward developing the geothermal resources within the lease area or the lease may be terminated. Once an area is developed for productive use of geothermal energy, the lease allows the lessee use of the resource for 40 years, with a right of renewal for another 40 years. Geothermal exploration and production on federal land conducted through leases is subject to terms and stipulations to comply with all applicable federal and state laws pertaining to sanitation, water quality, wildlife, safety, and reclamation. Lease stipulations may be site-specific and are derived from the environmental analysis process.
This EA considers the potential environmental impacts of the proposed action and has been prepared in accordance with the NEPA, the Council on Environmental Quality regulations implementing NEPA, and the FLPMA.