Geothermal Resource Management on National Forest System Lands

Heat from the Earth

Boiling water at Hot Creek in California's long valley caldera - USGS Photo by Chris FarrarGeothermal energy is the heat energy of the Earth contained in subsurface rocks and fluids. Replenished by heat sources deep in the Earth, geothermal resources provide a source of renewable energy, which requires minimal land use, and has low carbon emissions.  Geothermal energy is used to generate electricity, or heat buildings and operate greenhouses and aquaculture operations.

It is an abundant resource, especially in the Western U.S. where about 79 million acres of national forest system (NFS) lands have accessible geothermal resource potential.  There are also geothermal resources on NFS lands in eastern portions of the country.


The Role of the Forest Service

The Forest Service participates with the DOI- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in managing geothermal resources on NFS lands. The Forest Service has principal responsibility to manage use of surface resources, and ensure lands are reclaimed to support on-going land uses.

The BLM must have consent of the Forest Service before leasing NFS lands for geothermal resources. The agencies prepared a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) relating to the authorization of geothermal leasing in 2008.

Managing federal geothermal resources follows procedures in the BLM regulations at 43 CFR Part 3200.  More information on leasing and developing geothermal resources is available on the BLMs website.

Location of Geothermal Resources in the Western US

Mammoth Pacific geothermal Power Plant, Casa Diablo, Inyo National Forest.  Forest Service Image.In 2018, there were about 114,000 acres of NFS lands under lease for geothermal resources in Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.  Geothermal resource development on NFS lands contributed about 2 percent of the nation’s electricity generated from geothermal sources.