Geothermal Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental and Economic Impact Assessment of
Geothermal Leasing in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
ECO/370 Environmental Economics
10 April 2012
Daniel Rowe

Environmental and Economic Impact Assessment – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
This paper will evaluate the environmental and economic impacts of the proposal to allow leasing of public lands within the state of Washington as outlined in chapter 17 of the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Geothermal Leasing in the Western United States. The paper will identify the stakeholders and the local communities that will feel the greatest effects of the environmental and economic impacts caused by the geothermal energy proposals. In addition, the cataloging of the predicted consequences stemming from the purposed actions will address the severity and significance of the environmental and economic impacts.
The process of geothermal development follows a series of steps, which includes either a comprehensive or site-specific environmental impact assessment (United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management & United States Department of Agriculture: United States Forest Service, 2008). These steps start with (a) exploration of the purposed area; (b) applying and procuring a lease; (c) drilling, developing, harnessing, and producing energy; and (d) when production become unprofitable the site is abandoned and reclamation begins (BLM & USFS, 2008). Before the Bureau of Land Management approves a lease and drilling start, scientists and administers must conduct an impact assessment (BLM & USFS, 2008). The impact assessment addresses the environmental effects created by the purposed action in three distinct areas, consisting of 9,450.2 acres of land within the southeastern foothills found in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, located in Whatcom County, Washington (BLM & USFS, 2008).
In this area, the Bureau of Land Management has four pending lease applications under consideration within this chapter of the Final Programmatic environmental Impact Statement. The pending leasing sites are WAOR 056025, WAOR 056027, WAOR 056028, and WAOR 056029 (BLM & USFS, 2008). The WAOR 056025 lease application intends to utilize 2,403 acres, WAOR 056027 calls for 2,560 acres, WAOR 056028 requests 2,545 acres, and WAOR 056029 requests 1,942 acres of land between the elevations of 800 to 3,400 feet above sea level (BLM & USFS, 2008). These lands already contain a number of small creeks, trails, and areas currently used at gravel pits and quarries (BLM & USFS, 2008).
The impact assessment includes a contingency clause that allows for the readjusting of the proposed boundaries to prevent the occurrences of undesirable eventualities for resources and ecosystems later determined sensitive (BLM & USFS, 2008). Furthermore, two alternatives accompany the assessment for consideration, Alternative A and Alternative B (BLM & USFS, 2008). Alternative A, takes the position of not making any changes to the current activities occurring within the area; thus denying the pending leasing applications (BLM & USFS, 2008). Whereas, Alternative B, will approved the leases on a conditional basis, requiring the lessee to meet a number of concessions (BLM & USFS, 2008). According to the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forrest Service (2008), a lease stipulation is an enforceable clause that restricts the type, time, and location of operations that may take place in the leased area for the reason of protecting the environment and avoiding unwanted ramifications.
The idea that ???geothermal energy will play a key role in powering America??™s energy future???; additionally, the continuous search for alternative energy has inspired new technologies and increased enthusiasm for this type of energy production (United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management, 2009, para. 3). The goals associated with this impact assessment have a fourfold purpose.
1. ???Identify and analyze the effects of public and National Forest Service lands with geothermal potential as being opened or closed to leasing;
1. Develop a comprehensive list of stipulations, best management practices, and procedures to serve as consistent guidance for future geothermal leasing and development;
2. Amend [the Unites States Bureau of Land Management] Resource Management Plans to adopt the land use allocations and list of stipulations, [best management practices], and procedures???
3. Provide analysis to facilitate consent determinations from the [United States Forest Service] (BLM & USFS, 2008, slide 6).
The judgments derived from the environmental assessment come from a reasonably foreseeable development scenario; hence, a hypothetical time progression based on realistic data taken from the regions environmental settings.
The geological situation of the pending lease areas exhibits a noticeable amount of seismic activity because of the converging tectonic plates that form a subduction zone (BLM & USFS, 2008). The activity within the region has slowly declined over the last million years, yet the likelihood of a major seismic or volcanic event occurring is comparatively high (BLM & USFS, 2008). ???All the lease sites lie within approximately ten miles of the summit of Mount Baker [and] Mount Baker is an isolated stratovolcano??? (BLM & USFS, 2008, p.17:16). The economic impact from leasing on this active terrain will require a significant investment in planning, architectural and engineering design, and safety protocols long before construction can begin. Thus, extending the period when the project does not generate an income, which may have long-term consequences that can hinder the sites??™ productivity and lucrativeness. In addition, the sites have a myriad of soil types allowing for potential environmental impacts in the form of erosion or compaction resulting from construction and production activities (BLM & USFS, 2008).
There exists a high probability that the availability and quality of the water resources in these lease sites will diminish over time, although no immediate direct impact seem likely (BLM & USFS, 2008). Through process of energy production ???geothermal waters could introduce contaminants into the drinking water,??? in turn poisoning the environment??™s flora and fauna (BLM & USFS, 2008, p. 17:22). Typically ???geothermal projects require large amounts of water during all phases of a project from exploration through reclamation and abandonment; therefore, anticipated future actions following leasing could result in impacts on the surface water and ground water quantities BLM & USFS, 2008, p. 17:22). Although, the lease sites appear to have an overly abundant supply of water with the continued and constant use, including water contamination the water resources may become limited.
The vegetation and wildlife within the pending lease sites have a prodigious diversity within each ecosystem and between ecosystems (BLM & USFS, 2008). If the purposed leasing actions deviated from the reasonable and foreseeable prediction of disturbing a minimal estimate of acreage above the land used for production, the adverse effects could become irreversible (BLM & USFS, 2008). Such disturbances include habitat disturbance, direct removal or injury, increased risk to fire and erosion, which intensifies the potential of losing much of the native wildlife and invasion from exotic species (BLM & USFS, 2008).
The proposed action may have indirect impacts on the socioeconomics through anticipated future actions. Thus, causing an increase in job availability simultaneously decreasing the county and state??™s the unemployment (BLM & USFS, 2008). In addition, the influx of work and people will have a stimulating impact on the local economy and increase revenues collected from taxes (BLM & USFS, 2008). These types of impacts tend to have a rippling effect, directly and indirectly improving nearly every individual within the local community.
The stakeholders that clearly have the most to lose from the purposed actions consist of the indigenous wildlife, the native tribal groups, and local residents. In addition to the current occupants, human and wildlife, one must consider the future inhabitants as stakeholders within this situation. However, if the pending lessees adopted the Bureau of Land Management??™s best management practices, procedures and exercised prudence in the development focusing on avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the impacts, the various local communities and the investors can benefit from the purposed actions. ???The cumulative impacts associated with geothermal development, such as erosion, habitat loss and fragmentation, propagation of invasive species, and [scenery] degradation , would occur but would be relatively minor??? (BLM & USFS, 2008, p. ES:8). ???The [United States] continues to lead other nations in online geothermal energy capacity and is one of the principal countries with increased geothermal growth??? (Blodgett,? 2010).

References:
Blodgett, L.? (2010).? U.S. geothermal energy growth.? Electric Light & Power, May/June. Retrieved? from? http://www.elp.com/index/display/article-display/3977393005/articles/electric-light-power/volume-88/issue-3/sections/u_s_-geothermal_energy.html
United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management. (2009).? Federal agencies move to ease development of geothermal energy and increase power generation.? Retrieved from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/newsroom/2008/december/NR_12_18_2008.html
United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management & United States Department of Agriculture: United States Forest Service. (2008). Draft: programmatic EIS for geothermal leasing in the Western U.S. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/MINERALS__REALTY__AND_RESOURCE_PROTECTION_/energy/geothermal_eis.Par.10283.File.dat/0708pmtgpres.pdf.
United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management & United States Department of Agriculture: United States Forest Service. (2008). Final programmatic environmental impact statement for geothermal leasing in the Western United States. Washington DC: United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management.