SANTA FE ― The Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to determine the potential effects of geothermal energy development on land within Forest boundaries.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has identified approximately 195,000 acres within the boundaries of the SFNF with “significant geothermal potential.” To date, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has received expressions of interest in leasing approximately 46,000 acres of SFNF land for geothermal exploration and development. The BLM manages the subsurface resources on all federal land.
The EIS, which will assess both the physical and social impacts of any proposed development, is a required first step in the Forest Service’s decision-making process on whether to open SFNF lands to geothermal leasing.
Public input gathered during both the scoping and comment periods will become part of the project record and inform the Forest’s final decision. Two meetings will be scheduled soon, one in Santa Fe and the second in the Cuba, NM, area. The SFNF will notify the public of the meeting times and locations when arrangements are finalized.
Of the project area identified by USGS, approximately 30,000 acres, including the Jemez National Recreation Area and the East Fork of the Jemez River, which has been designated a federal Wild and Scenic River, are closed to leasing by statute. The Forest Service also has discretionary authority to prohibit leasing to protect special resources. In the proposed project area, that would include the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway, the Jemez Historic Site National Landmark and the Monument Canyon Research Natural Area, as well as SFNF administrative sites in the area.
The EIS will also help the Forest Service determine appropriate limitations on exploration and development needed to protect other land uses and surface resources in areas open to leasing. That would include critical habitat for endangered species, water resources, cultural and archeological sites, and developed recreational facilities.
The SFNF has contracted with Environmental Management and Planning Solutions, Inc. (EMPSi) to perform the analysis for the EIS.
EMPSi, a consulting firm focused on environmental compliance and permitting for complex projects, has worked on several Forest Service and BLM projects, including geothermal proposals. The Forest has also hired DMG Four Corners Research, Inc. to conduct an ethnographic survey of the Jemez Mountain area as part of the social impact assessment required under NEPA.
The SFNF expects to complete a draft EIS by January 2016 and a final EIS by October 2016.