Geothermal Energy Optimization (GEO) Act

S. 3954

The Geothermal Energy Optimization Act would amend the Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 to create a geothermal categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) for projects on federal land.




The GEO Act would promote the timely exploration of geothermal energy resources by streamlining the duplicative permitting review process. A recent DOE analysis shows that geothermal energy has the potential to provide upwards of 90 gigawatts of electricity by 2050 – enough to power the equivalent of more than 65 million U.S. homes. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that around 90 percent of geothermal resources in the U.S. are on public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The greatest barrier to unleashing geothermal potential is its development limitations on public land. Any geothermal energy exploration or development on BLM land must go through a comprehensive environmental assessment (EA) under NEPA. Research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that each final geothermal well on public land ends up invoking NEPA up to six times (with each EA taking 10 months), resulting in an average development timeline of eight years.


Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the oil and gas industry is exempt from NEPA reviews on public lands depending on the size of the project. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from 2011 found that BLM field offices used a categorical exclusion to expedite the approval of 6,900 oil-and-gas-related activities from fiscal year 2006 through fiscal year 2008. During this period, the U.S. became the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.

Geothermal energy uses 70% less land per kWh than wind, and 88% less than solar, and often uses the same technology as the oil and gas industry. Extending the existing categorical exclusion to geothermal projects would position the U.S. to be a global leader in geothermal energy production, a clean and flexible form of firm energy generation.


In addition to creating a geothermal categorical exclusion under NEPA, the GEO Act makes a number of common-sense improvements to the burdensome and duplicative permitting review process. Namely, the GEO Act:

  • Provides additional resources for field offices by creating a Geothermal Ombudsman and Strike Team for technical assistance and dispute mediation.
  • Sets a new geothermal lease sale target for federal lands.
  • Requires BLM to hold a land auction every year instead of every two years.


Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)


Sen. James Risch (R-ID), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)


ClearPath Action, Fervo Energy, Eavor, 350 New Mexico


S. 3954


Printable summary of S. 3954