Check Out Our Comments on Ormat’s Gerlach Geothermal Exploration Project

Before the holidays, we informed you about Ormat Technology’s proposed geothermal exploration project in Gerlach, Nevada, and the potential impacts of such a project in the tranquil desert town that serves at the gateway to the Black Rock Desert – High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). 

The Bureau of Land Management is conducting an Environmental Assessment and soliciting feedback from the public to determine whether Ormat can proceed with their plan. Any member of the public can participate in this important federal process – this means you! We invite the Burning Man community to join us in submitting substantive comments about this project to BLM. The deadline is MONDAY, JANUARY 10th. Read our earlier post on how to submit an effective, substantive comment.

Burning Man Project strongly supports renewable energy development and has published a 10-year environmental sustainability roadmap that includes our goal of becoming carbon negative, but the proposed siting of Ormat’s geothermal facility is causing tremendous concern. We are requesting that BLM prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and carefully consider the known and likely impacts to the land, people, animals, and natural resources.

 

 

A geothermal facility so close to Gerlach and the NCA would forever alter the environment, viewshed, and quality of life in the area. See photos of other Ormat sites on their Global Projects page. Before BLM grants permission for this exploration project, the impacts must be understood and satisfactorily mitigated. How will residents of Gerlach live with the noise and light pollution? What will happen to water quality and the water table (see Sec 4.7 of the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Geothermal Leasing in the Western United States)? What if the local springs dry up? Who gets the power from this facility once it is built? How will tourism be impacted?

We reported in our December post that Ormat wants to build 21 wells at 2.1 acres each, drilled to 1,500 feet deep and spanning 2,742 acres near the Y in Gerlach at the intersection of Highway 447 and Route 34. One of our readers pointed out that the proposal includes wells at 7,000 foot depth (p.4 of the Operation Plan) and may “utilize directional boring (horizontal) and will incorporate reinjection of fluids possibly with Fracking intention.” Even though Ormat has characterized this phase of development as “exploration,” it would have lasting impacts whether they proceed with the generation phase or not.

We’ve done some additional research and found resources that help explain the concerns associated with this type of project. 

  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory acknowledges that an exploratory drilling project such as this may require an EIS: Geothermal Permitting and NEPA Timelines at p. 896. 
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has voiced concerns regarding impacts to springs and habitat from geothermal development projects in Nevada and the eastern Sierras.  
  • Recently, the U.S. District Court for the State of Nevada issued a 90-day pause on construction of an Ormat geothermal plant in Dixie Meadows. While the purpose of the pause is to address potential impacts to endangered species and cultural resources, the court “expressed concern over what [it] said was a lack of a typical environmental impact study and proposed mitigation measures to address possible impacts to Dixie Meadows as a result of the geothermal energy project, including its potential to dry up the spring.”

A number of widely-cited papers have outlined the risks and problems associated with geothermal power, which underscore our view that an EIS needs to be completed: 

  1. Geothermal projects can negatively impact the well-being and health of people, the ecosystem, and the bioregion. 
  2. There are risks of trace elements and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  3. Water in the area and the broader basin could be impacted by reinjection, fluid withdrawal, brine, and surface water contamination. 
  4. A geothermal development would likely create light, air, and noise pollution at the entrance to the National Conservation Area. 
  5. In some cases geothermal projects create problems with non-native species, heat effects, and discharge of other chemicals. 
  6. The future plant could create hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury emissions. 

We know that geothermal energy is very complex and there is much to understand, but we are bringing you what we know and looking forward to learning more. As noted above, we are in favor of renewable power. Geothermal and solar power are the focus of a few winners of the Fly Ranch design challenge: Coyote Mountain, SEED, and Solar Mountain. As we’ve considered these projects and other developments in Gerlach, we’ve engaged local stakeholders, scientists, and experts, studied the land, and intend to carefully mitigate impacts. In Nevada there is a well-documented history of hot springs drying up due to geothermal projects at Jersey Valley hot springs and Dixie Meadows

Passing through Gerlach, Nevada, 2021 (Photo by John Curley)

If you drive to Black Rock City, recreate in the Black Rock Desert, or visit the National Conservation Area, you go through Gerlach, the quaint little town at the end of the grid and the beginning of the wilderness. It’s truly one of the last outposts of small-town community living. An industrial geothermal facility less than a mile away would change the character of Gerlach forever. Small towns like Gerlach are disappearing all over the country, and in order to retain this spirit, measures must be taken to ensure folks in these areas can continue to live harmoniously in their chosen environment. 

BLM should hold Ormat to at least the same standard they apply to our annual, one-week Leave-No-Trace event. We would like Ormat to consider the broader ecosystem, stakeholders, and impacts their projects could have. We would like Ormat and BLM to hear from Numu and Newe (Western Shoshone) Tribes, and others whose land we visit with concerns or experience with neighboring geothermal development.

Thank you, Burning Man community, for always helping us to level up. You can track this Ormat project and read the documentation on BLM’s ePlanning website.


Cover image of Hwy 447 on the road to Black Rock City, 2018 (Photo by Leori Gill)

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.

21 Comments on “Check Out Our Comments on 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.

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    • Emanuel Haldezos says:

      I enjoyed the transperancy of this article. And even though I live in the Bay Area and have not attended Birning man recently . I do have memories of this unique location and the town of Gerlach. Having a major company come in to harvest resources is not something I’m willing to except for personal gains. I enjoy the beautiful stark scenery of this natural resource area and would not like to see such a development. Thank you for listening and I hope the process moves as slow and the research will prove it beneficial for the local population. Thank you.

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  • Exceptional says:

    NIMBY!

    Does this mean you will stop tearing up your 360 acre “360” property at Gerlach where you use fossil fuel burning equipment and generators to turn the desert into a parking lot?

    See the Burning Man Journal:

    What’s Now, What’s Next for Burning Man
    August 4, 2021 By John Curley

    If You Build It, They Will Come
    August 26, 2021 By John Curley

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  • Joe says:

    Geothermal energy, right next to Burning Man? This is awesome! We’ve been trying to make the festival environmentally friendly since the beginning. Imagine if we could work out a temporary grid access for festival time. We wouldn’t have to burn so much diesel for electricity. We could even build electric monster vehicle charging stations. And it would ALL be renewable!
    Huge projects like this should always come with a healthy degree of scrutiny, but this sounds like the answer to burning man’s prayers.

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  • Rich says:

    If you actually want to do something about climate change, rather than pretending, you have to sacrifice some landscape value, and a geothertmal plant is not a very large thing.
    Mostly, the only problem is that they mess with the hydrology so some hot pools will go cold and you might have random geysers popping up (this all based on the plants in New Zealand).
    It doesn’t really behove an organisation that creates tens of thousands of long vehicle journeys to object, anyway.

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  • Repeat says:

    Yeah oil wells are ugly but at least we don’t have to look at them when they’re a couple hundred miles away.

    It’s kindof strange that the BMorg is asking us to hop on board with some out-of-state NIMBYism. Lets not be wildly hypocritical about a geothermal plant that will be an insignificant eyesore the next time we drive a couple hundred miles to run our blenders out in the desert.

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  • SSE says:

    I would be concerned about how the pipes to and from each well are going to cross the 447 and 34 roads to the main plant.

    Here is another of their plants: https://elkodaily.com/news/ormat-hosts-tour-of-geothermal-plant/article_2c6b35c6-e2e5-11e3-bf0e-001a4bcf887a.html

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  • Tim says:

    Superspreader event.

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  • Anthony Veerkamp says:

    Addressing the climate crisis requires ALL of us to make real sacrifices. The statement “we support renewable energy, BUT…” has been used to derail countless projects that would have helped us move more rapidly to a net zero carbon economy. If your true intent is to optimize this project so that local impacts are minimized, bravo. But I suspect that your true intentions are to kill the project. Do the right thing for the planet and for all of the disadvantaged people around the globe who are paying the price of our inaction.

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    • Jeff says:

      I completely agree. Far too many renewable projects are delayed or derailed due to NIMBYs that are “in favor” of renewable energy but then oppose it when it is in their backyard. The world is currently deploying renewables probably at least 10x too slow to stop climate change from completely destroying everything as we know it. We are in a climate emergency and should be fast-tracking these types of developments as much as possible.

      I’m all for common-sense proposals to make the development better, but requiring a full EIS would add precious years to the development that we don’t have.

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  • QuestionableTaste says:

    I totally agree with prior comments that this reflects entitled NIMBYism. Not only does it fly in the face of environmentalism and support for local, impoverished communities, but frankly I don’t want my ticket money spent on lawyers promoting this activity. After the Org has held it’s hand out for donations, pleading imminent bankruptcy, they have apparently found the time, energy, and funds to pursue this hypocritical stance. BM if you want to go down this path, I suggest you fundraise for your self serving legal battles and not use money raised for the event we care about.

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  • Charles F Tucker says:

    Why Gerlach when there are hundreds of thousands of acres of BLM land not in such a visible spot? Because Gerlach is there because water was there? Because a paved highway is there? They have a small facility just off US 395 in Mammoth Lakes and a much larger one just off 395 south of Reno. The Mammoth Lakes one is screened by topography, all you see is steam/vapor, the Reno one is visible from old and new 395’s. It is an Israeli company, not a US owned company, but they have the technology our industrial complex has ignored. Good for them! Bottom line, there must be a better place not very far away to do this. EIS needs to be serious about alternative sites.

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  • Magic says:

    My vote would be to have Burning Man help them do the project tastefully. I do renewable energy all over the world and I consider myself a solid burner. I don’t think Burning Man is a NIMBY organization but this article really did sound like it.

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  • hafdef says:

    Geothermal wells drying up in Nevada? Don’t forget the geyser field at Beowawe where geothermal drilling destroyed a small but fair percentage of the planet’s geysers. As I recall the drilling did not achieve the intended results either.

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  • Lynne Bright says:

    Please look into the area in and around northern Imperial County for local impact in rural areas. In my opinion, any job (especially skilled workers) impact do not come from the local communities, they come from outside the County, and only during the build. Once the project has reached its conclusion, it is not maintained locally. The Ormat office in Brawley was significantly downsized once the Heber Project got to the maintenance stage.

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  • BobC says:

    “1. There are risks of trace elements and greenhouse gas emissions. ”

    Seriously? This is a concern from the same people that encourage and release metric tons of greenhouse gasses annually into the atmosphere solely for the purpose of hosting a large party and to burn shit?

    Get real.

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  • Jennifer says:

    Asking for due diligence research to be done is not “entitled”, “hypocritical”, “NIMBYism”, etc. It’s just responsible, thoughtful participation. Do we have to add so much vitriol to everything?

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  • Johnson says:

    Typical elitist progressive nonsense. Last time I checked, Gerlach didn’t have much of an economic engine. Geothermal is safe and carbon neutral. This facility will generate enough MW to cheaply power 15,000 homes for 50 years including Empire, Gerlach, and the Pyramid reservation. Net zero is a poverty promotion scheme.

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