Dec. 13, 2017 update: The bill has passed the House Resources Committee on a voice vote, according to Labrador's office.
The House Resources Committee is poised to approve a bill designed to help make it easier to produce geothermal energy from beneath public lands.
The bill, introduced Wednesday by Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, is designed to reduce the time it takes for regulators to approve small, exploratory, hot-water wells. Exempting test holes less than 8 inches in diameter from the National Environmental Policy Act would cut approval time from 10 months to two months or less, according to a Labrador news release.
The House Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on bills, including Labrador’s, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Labrador proposed allowing test wells to be drilled without environmental review in 2011, a bill that passed the House in 2012. This time he used categorical exclusion language similar to provisions already in place for oil and gas exploration and mining, and he draws a comparison between the two in the release.
Other changes include allowing geothermal production on lands leased for oil and gas, and language allowing the leaseholder on one property to pursue “noncompetitive, fair market value leasing” on land right next to it.
Previous versions of the bill appeared to help speculators tie up leases, especially next to existing wells. The new bill uses a leasing provision that should remove that as a concern. That language came from a bill introduced by Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, and is similar to legislation with bipartisan support in the Senate from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Support has also come from U.S. Geothermal, which is headquartered in Boise and operates geothermal projects in four Western states. A company executive testified at a hearing last week on a draft version of the bill.
“We believe that all four provisions of the bill provide essential modifications to the issues related to leasing and developing geothermal resources on federally managed land and provide a catalyst for growth in the geothermal industry,” Douglas Glaspey, the company’s interim CEO, said in the release.
The Bureau of Land Management manages geothermal projects on federal land under lease agreements. It estimates that about 250 million acres of federal land contains geothermal power potential. Geothermal energy projects that are producing power under the BLM’s management make up about half of the total geothermal generating capacity in the United States.