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BLM Probes “Hot Water” Potential for WA

July 24, 2008

Seattle, WA – At least half of Washington State has geothermal energy potential, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to lease more public land, including National Forest land, to companies that can tap it. The federal agency is holding public meetings this month about a new leasing plan, to operate much like current lease programs for mineral rights or oil and gas drilling.

Kermit Witherbee, a geologist who is the BLM's National Geothermal Program manager, says rising energy costs have prompted people to take a closer look at geothermal, and using hot water to generate power has some advantages over wind or solar technologies.

"Geothermal is an energy source that's 'on' 24/7, has a capacity of about 85 to 90 percent, and doesn't produce any carbon dioxide from the generation of electricity."

Witherbee says the plan would open up a total of 192 million acres to geothermal leasing, mostly in the West, although some places will still be off-limits.

"There are certain lands which aren't available to mineral entries, such as certain National Park units, like Yellowstone, Wilderness Study areas, and wilderness areas. Those aren't even considered; we just identify them in the plan."

Witherbee says land would be leased in 10-year increments, and would require environmental impact studies before geothermal exploration could take place in an area. Critics of the idea say the agency's environmental oversight isn't tough enough. The only public meeting in Washington will be held on Monday night in Seattle, but comments can also be made online at blm.gov through mid-September.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA