Burning Man is suing the Bureau of Land Management over allowing a geothermal exploration project in Gerlach, Nevada.
In a filing filed Monday, the Burning Man Project — the non-profit organization behind the festival — argues the agency failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when it ruled in October that the exploration project would have “no significant impact” on what means that it does not require a more stringent environmental assessment.
Ormat’s proposed Gerlach geothermal exploration project would be less than a mile north of Gerlach, Nevada — a gateway town for the event that attracts a transient town of 80,000 annually. The town normally has 120 inhabitants.
Ormat previously proposed a geothermal development project at the same site but has since withdrawn its development plan and submitted an exploration plan in its place.
After analyzing the project site, BLM permitted drilling of up to 13 reconnaissance wells through Ormat and construction of approximately 2 miles of new access roads and associated facilities on approximately 5 miles of public land. The exploration project would be the first part of a potential future major geothermal development project.
Opponents of the exploration project — including Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Friends of the Black Rock High Rock, and a local landowner and resident — fear the project would permanently degrade vital hot springs adjacent to the project site.
“After attending the public hearing and finding no movement regarding our concerns, we have filed this lawsuit to ensure that the impact of the proposed project is minimized and that Ormat is a good corporate citizen in this environmentally sensitive, economically vulnerable area of the world.” Northern Nevada is,” said Adam Belsky, General Counsel of the Burning Man Project.
In an October decision letter sent to interested parties, the BLM said they require additional hydrological monitoring before, during and after drilling in response to analysis and public concerns during the project’s comment period.
Local residents and landowners believe the exploration project will directly impact their property interests by “laying the groundwork to transform a unique, virtually pristine ecosystem of ecological, historical and cultural importance into an industrial area.”
Gerlach resident Andy Moore, a member of the Gerlach-Empire Citizens Advisory Board, joined the lawsuit out of concern for the lasting impact on the city.
“Nobody I know is against green electricity. We oppose a corporation coming in, disregarding our public contributions, ignoring our questions, making false statements and harming a community to line the pockets of its shareholders while destroying our quiet nights, our property values and our peace. There is no gain to this city, only losses from this project at our expense and our way of life,” Moore said.
Paul Thompson, Ormat’s vice president of business development, said the developer has reviewed the complaint and believes the lawsuit is unfounded.
“Consistent with the law and the realities of geothermal development, Ormat has completed a government review of its exploration project before proceeding with development,” Thompson said. “Ormat is evaluating whether to intervene in the lawsuit and looks forward to winning the lawsuit and continuing its contribution to Nevada’s green, zero-emission future that will offset some of the copious amounts of fossil fuels consumed by the Burning Man project annually the Black Rock Desert emits.”
Opponents of the exploration project pointed to a recent lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone tribe to stop another Ormat geothermal energy project near a spring home to a rare Nevada toad. In this case, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the proposed geothermal development project would likely alter or dry out neighboring hot spring systems.
Shaaron Netherton, Executive Director of Friends of Nevada Wilderness, argues that the project would “change forever the amazing field of view of this region.”
This isn’t the first time Burning Man has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Bureau of Land Management. In December 2019, Burning Man sued the BLM for their special recreation permit fee, arguing the bureau had overtaxed them for years. And in 2020, event organizers sued the agency for keeping financial information about their event secret.
The Burning Man Project has designed, managed and built Burning Man annually since 1990 on the dry lake of the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada.
The Company coordinates the behind-the-scenes work required to build the temporary metropolis near Black Rock Desert High Rock year-round. Burning Man Project also owns a number of properties in the area and has over 20 permanent, full-time employees who live and work year-round in the Gerlach area.
“We know this region, it’s our home base,” said Marnee Benson, director of government affairs for the Burning Man Project. “Our interest goes beyond the major event we bring here. We invest heavily in the community and in creating long-term opportunities for economic development.”
This article has been updated with commentary from Ormat’s Vice President of Business Development, Paul Thompson.