Burning Man Project plans to participate in the public scoping process for Ormat Technologies Inc.’s proposed geothermal exploration project in Gerlach, Nevada, and we encourage you to consider doing the same. The Bureau of Land Management Black Rock Field Office is soliciting feedback to develop an Environmental Assessment:
“The field office is analyzing the environmental effects of the proposal to construct, operate, and maintain the Gerlach Geothermal Exploration Project in the Gerlach Geothermal Lease Unit located in Washoe County, less than one mile northwest of Gerlach on the western edge of the Black Rock Playa. Ormat has proposed further exploration of the Gerlach geothermal resource based on results of previous geothermal exploration including the drilling and testing of geothermal wells and access road construction.”
Burning Man Project supports the development of renewable energy in Nevada and recognizes the important role of renewables in mitigating the impacts of climate change. Geothermal energy is abundant in Nevada and developing additional resources will be a key component of our country’s clean energy future.
However, the proposed siting of Ormat’s Gerlach project raises significant questions and concerns for residents and stakeholders in the region, including Burning Man. We have begun our evaluation and plan to submit detailed comments. We want to give you a heads up now so you can take some time to review the materials and submit your own comments. The deadline for public comments is Monday, January 10, 2022. We find this timeline problematic given the holiday season and complexity of issues, and we join with other stakeholders in asking for an extension of time for public comments that allows for more meaningful study and input.
BLM is requiring an Environmental Assessment for Ormat’s proposal, instead of the more rigorous Environment Impact Statement (EIS) normally reserved for projects of this nature. The potential environmental impacts of the proposed geothermal facilities would be permanent and extensive. An EIS is warranted. Further to this point, BLM required an EIS for Black Rock City’s 10-year permit, a Leave No Trace recreational event with temporary impacts.
We encourage you, the Burning Man community, to engage in this process. You can learn about the process, read the documents, view the maps, submit comments, and stay up-to-date here on BLM’s eplanning website.
This geothermal exploration project proposes an initial installation of 21 wells – at 2.1 acres each, drilled to 1,500 feet – spanning 2,742 acres near the “Y” in Gerlach, very close to the Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). There would be road construction and an aggregate pit. Future development will very likely include a generation plant and transmission infrastructure. This project has the potential to significantly impact residents and visitors alike, forever altering the look and feel of the area.
We are looking more deeply into Ormat’s proposal so we can better understand the impacts to Gerlach residents and businesses, property owners, tourists, and the local economy. We believe it’s important to hear from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and other Tribal leaders whose land we visit with concerns or experience with neighboring geothermal development. We’re concerned about negative environmental and social impacts from existing geothermal facilities in Nevada that were not properly planned for and that could occur at future facilities. And we’re concerned about the potential downturn in area tourism and outdoor recreation.
The most important topics we’ve identified related to this proposed geothermal development, and the biggest questions for us relating to environmental and human impacts, are:
- Noise pollution
- Light pollution
- Air pollution
- Aquifer drawdown
- Groundwater temperature & hot springs
- Water quality
- Drinking water
- Viewshed toward the NCA
- Transmission lines
- Plant and animal ecology
- Local resources and infrastructure
- Tourism and the economy
Burning Man Project wants to support the development of renewable energy, and we understand that locating projects isn’t always easy or ideal. We know that smart energy development can create jobs and decrease carbon emissions. At the same time, we understand that a remote and intimate setting is part of the magic of Gerlach, magic we have worked to preserve and improve in our 30 years as a community member. We have invested in socially responsible economic development in the region and will continue on this path. We’ve explored solar and geothermal and hope to build renewable infrastructure, partnering with others to do so. Our organization’s development will be based on our three environmental sustainability goals to be regenerative, carbon negative, and manage waste ecologically.
Our goal now is to more fully understand the pros and cons of Ormat’s proposal. We will update you in early January before the deadline.
Cover image of Hwy 447 in Nevada, 2017 (Photo by Chuck Revell)