The very thing Sen. Richard Bryan wants most to protect by making Black Rock Desert a National Conservation Area could destroy what may be its greatest potential.
Bryan, D-Nev., has proposed setting aside 690,000 acres of Washoe and Humboldt counties, including the Black Rock Dessert and High Rock Canyon, to protect them from development.
The center-line of his proposal is the Applegate-Lassen National Historic Trail.
However, the historic trail follows a line of geothermal springs through the desert.
Those geothermal springs have huge potential for producing thermal and electric energy, said Dennis Trexler of Geothermal/Renewable Energy Development.
"This locks up quite a large potential for geothermal development," Trexler told the Nevada Mineral Resources Commission last week.
Donna Potter of Empire Foods said that company is an example of the potential. It operates a dehydration plant south of Gerlach that uses geothermal power for its electric needs and thermal power from the ground to dehydrate onions and garlic.
Bryan's plan has already drawn objections from Nevada county commissions, cattlemen, the Agriculture Department and Sagebrush rebellion groups, even though Bryan points out that recreational activities including vehicles and even grazing would still be permitted there.
But Minerals Division Administrator Alan Coyner made it clear geothermal developers have a much more direct conflict with the plan.
"You've got the area you want to preserve most lying over the area of most geothermal potential," he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if most of the commissioners are very much opposed to this," said Commissioner Pete Hummel. Every commissioner present nodded agreement, and Chairman Fred Gibson Jr. asked Commissioner Patrick Fagan to draft a position statement for a vote at the next meeting.
"This state has huge potential for geothermal development," said Fagan. "This cuts the industry off at the knees."
He said, however, there should be some way to work with Bryan to give the area some protection while not closing the door to mineral development.
And he said he hopes that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who strongly supports geothermal development efforts, will help with the issue.
When Commissioner Jim Chachas asked whether the bill might die when Bryan leaves office at the end of the year, Trexler said the problem is environmental groups are already lobbying President Clinton to declare the area a National Conservation Area.
Gibson said the commission should put its position and arguments before Gov. Kenny Guinn, who has said he supports protection but has reservations about Bryan's proposal.
He said the Mineral Resources Commission should have some influence with Guinn in his final position on the bill now before Congress.