Will Geothermal Scale The Slopes Of Cascades Volcano?

A plan to tap the geothermal potential of one of the Cascade Range’s most impressive volcanoes has been thrown open for public consultation.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has begun the consultation to decide whether forest land near Mount Baker should be leased out to power companies for the purpose of producing geothermal energy.


image via U.S Geological Survey

The service is considering allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to open for leasing about 5,500 acres on the southeast side of Mount Baker. The project is located in Whatcom County, Wash., in the Baker River watershed. The nominated lands are situated south of the Mount Baker Wilderness and east of the Mount Baker Nature Reserve Area.

It is believed that power companies would use thermal vents in the vicinity of the peak to tap the energy of the volcano.

At 10,781 feet, Mount Baker is one of the most visible peaks in the range. Its stark white glaciers can be seen from Seattle, and on a clear day you can see it from Mount Rainier, more than 100 miles to the south.

The volcano is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, a segment of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes 160 active volcanoes. It is the second-most active volcano in the range after Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980 with deadly effect.

Mount Baker has a less fearsome reputation. Even so, it has been active as recently as the mid-1970s, when its crater broke open and began spewing steam and ash clouds in to the vicinity causing concern to local residents, particularly those living below Baker Lake. The thermal activity prompted the temporarily closure from public access of the Baker Lake recreation area and to lower the reservoir’s water level by 10 meters.

Since then the peak has been quiet although seismic activity continues to be recorded below the mountain and it remains one of the most studied of the Cascade volcanoes.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.


  • Reply May 2, 2012


    I think this is a great idea. If you wIsh to mInImIze the Impact then burie the plant under the ground.

  • Reply May 2, 2012


    There’s also a mismatch between what BLM deems as a potentially valid lease area and what the USFS thinks is leasable. This situation is an artifact of maintaining two separate environmental impact evaluation processes rather than having a single agency integrate all stakeholder issues.

    The USFS issued a Record of Decision in 2010 that declared the Sulphur Creek Botanical Area off-limits to development. However, the area up for evaluation includes this, which the BLM well knows. Rather than shave the SCBA off the area up for review, the BLM left it for the FS to reiterate that the area is off limits. Not a very efficient way to process lease applications, it seems to me.

    The rest of the area, however, should pose no problems for the natural or viewshed resources there, if reasonable conditions are applied to exploration and development.

  • Reply July 16, 2012


    lease to one company to build one beta site for 3 years. stipulation that everything is built underground.

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