Commenting Period Open for Ormat’s Gerlach Geothermal Exploration Project

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:

  1. Noise pollution
  2. Light pollution
  3. Air pollution
  4. Aquifer drawdown
  5. Groundwater temperature & hot springs
  6. Water quality 
  7. Drinking water
  8. Viewshed toward the NCA
  9. Transmission lines
  10. Plant and animal ecology
  11. Local resources and infrastructure
  12. 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)

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

15 Comments on “Commenting Period Open for Ormat’s Gerlach Geothermal Exploration Project

  • Burning Man Project Communications says:

    Reminder: Burning Man Project has a responsibility to maintain this space for the benefit of all participants, to ensure that comments serve to enhance the experience of our visitors, rather than cause harm. While spirited conversation is welcome, unruly and rude behavior is not. Posts that are harmful to others or run counter to the spirit of civil discourse may be removed.

    Please review our COMMENT POLICY here, then comment with care: https://journal.burningman.org/comment-policy/

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  • Joanna Chesnut says:

    I support requiring an EIS for a project that is permanent and as extensive as this. I think it is reasonable and I am amazed that It was not required.

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  • Geomom says:

    I understand the concern, but wonder how much of which components of the project can be relocated? I was in mining for 16 years, and was asked more than once, “Why don’t you just move the mine?” The resource is where it is. You can’t throw a dart somewhere else on the map that is more convenient.

    That being said, it is well worth people’s time to examine the list of potential impacts.

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  • Mike Bilbo says:

    As with Nevada’s giant open-pit mines on public lands and New Mexico’s extensive oil and gas fields on public lands, and wind turbines on public lands throughout the west, these industrial projects in effect remove/removed that land from public use. It’s not really multiple use, as the BLM likes to pretend. At the end-of-mining/extraction, the land of most such projects is never restored – the corporations always find a way to suddenly be bankrupted. While we desire energy free of fossil fuel, it comes with a public lands landscape destruction price.

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  • Mike Bilbo says:

    To physically see what the end result of Ormat’s facilities might look like, one of their plants is 16 miles southwest of Gerlach in the San Emidio Desert. It’s another public lands site approved by the BLM-Winnemucca Field Office. In a recent record-of-decision there’s going to be more landscape and visual resource impacts – https://www.blm.gov/press-release/blm-issues-decision-san-emidio-ii-north-valley-geothermal-project-expand-renewable

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  • Raveler says:

    There are so many potential impacts. An EIS is necessary… considering that Burning Man’s TEMPORARY event needed one. If it goes ahead, the changes will be forever changes. This decision should not be rushed.

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  • Raveler says:

    Thank you for clearly explaining the impacts and helping me understand how physicaly big this project will be. I was immediately concerned about the impact of well drilling… but I somehow forgot to think about construction and operation of a power generation plant and transmission lines.

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  • Exceptional says:

    I support your efforts to stop renewable energy development at Gerlach even though the project will help to reduce our dependence on global warming fossil fuels. Now that the Burning Man Project owns Gerlach you need to take control of the town’s future and seize on this moment to state loudly and clearly to anyone who would tamper with your bottom-line interests: NOT IN MY BACKYARD!

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    • Bryan says:

      No where did it mention stopping this project, but rather just evaluate the environmental impact. BM does not own Gerlach, and they are not saying NIMBY. So either you are being dramatic, spreading false information, or being sarcastic. Either way, it’s hard to tell via text, so just wanted to clarify for others that your comments are not factual.

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  • Mike Bilbo says:

    When you comment, make sure your comments are substantive on the areas that Burning Man has pointed out, and not emotional. Un-substantive comments tend to be ignored.

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  • Mike Bilbo says:

    One thing to remember about environmental assessments (EAs) – they are written to determine whether or not an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required. Land managing agencies for the most part involve their resource specialists in writing EAs. EISes 99% of the time are contracted out to “environmental companies” because they are comprehensive and take much more time, sometimes up to 3 years.

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  • Dave Cooper says:

    This project is in the very front yard of Gerlach less than a mile away. It will have significant adverse impacts to the environment, to the residents and the community as a whole. The industrial development will change the very character of this community outside our front door. We will see it, hear it, and smell it 24 hours a day. It will be lit up at night spoiling dark skies of the Darkest Town in America.

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/darkest-town-in-america/
    A well field is proposed next to Guru Road that is a very important unique historic cultural art feature for Gerlach. Visitor experiences and recreation access to this end of the Granit Mountains will be diminished. If this goes to full development it will stretch for a couple miles along the base of the Granites and be a permanent scar on our landscape.

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  • Widget says:

    If they are required to make it look like a enormous sleeping dragon, curled up at the base of the Granites… with the steam coming out of it’s nostrils, I’d be behind it. as long as the power plant was out of sight and the transmission lines were underground near Gerlach. That would be an amazing tourist attraction!

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  • Jeff Sher says:

    Yes it would appear that an EIS should be required. The fact that the BLM has not required it seems suspect for such a large project. (Disclosure: I was an environmental/political journalist for 13 years in my first career.) Perhaps Burning Man can take the approach of exploring ways to utilize the geothermal energy potential of the area in a completely low profile manner that does not interfere with any of the other features, creatures or natural systems of the area. In other words, if it’s economically feasible, make sure that it is done right. If it is not feasible economically to do it right, then don’t do it. It should probably be noted that the large flat usually sunny expanse of the Black Rock playa and surrounding areas might also be used for solar farms, but those also have their problems if they’re too large. So maybe Burning man can promote a combo of geothermal, distributed solar, dark sky and whatever else there is that is exceptional and attractive about the area and make the area a shining example of resource utilization within sustainable and aesthetic parameters. That seems consistent with the BM goal of modeling an alternative and desirable future society.

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