The Santa Fe National Forest has released an environmental impact statement draft to help forest managers determine the viability of utility-scale geothermal energy development on public lands. The plants generate electricity by recirculating water heated by the Earth’s core to turn turbines. The U.S. Geological Survey has identified 195,000 acres west and north of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Coyote, Jémez and Española ranger districts as having significant geothermal potential. Parts of the Santa Fe National Forest could be leased for exploration and development of geothermal starting in 2017. The popular Jémez National Recreation Area is among some parts of the Jémez Mountains that would be excluded from geothermal exploration.

Public meetings on the topic were held at Jemez Pueblo and El Rito last month. Written comments on the draft are being accepted through Aug. 22. María García, the forest manager, is then expected to make a final decision on whether some of the land will be leased. At previous meetings, public concerns were raised regarding where transmission lines would be located, and the potential for seismic activity as a result of geothermal power operations around a collapsed volcano. Advocates say that geothermal can generate a lot of energy with minimal geological disturbance.

In recent years, Jemez Pueblo drilled geothermal test wells and found water that was not hot enough for commercial energy production. Heated greenhouses, tilapia farms and hot springs are currently utilizing geothermal resources in the area.

Jemez Pueblo has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over the title to 89,000 acres that include the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The federal government, which purchased it from a private owner in 2000, claims that the pueblo abandoned its title to the land.