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Ownership of geothermal resources in Hawaii

By Robert M. Kamins


Mounting energy problems in the United States have sharpened concerns in Hawaii over the state's heavy reliance on imported petroleum. A major objective of the 1978 Hawaii State Plan is the lessening of this dependence through utilization of natural energy sources. Among the sources under study are solar and wind energy, conversion of growing plants and organic garbage into fuel, the warmth of the ocean's top layers, and the heat of the earth accumulated underground in reservoirs of superheated water or steam-geothermal energy. A geothermal reservoir has been found on the Island of Hawaii capable of producing electricity with the application of technology already in commercial use at other geothermal areas. However, among the impediments to developing geothermal power in Hawaii is the uncertainty of the ownership of the subsurface reservoirs. There is doubt as to whether they belong to the owners of the overlying land or have been reserved to the state government as "minerals." The purposes of this comment are exploratory: to identify the causes of the uncertainty, to trace the history of mineral reservations in Hawaii from which the uncertainty arose, to ascertain if case law has disposed of the uncertainty, and to present arguments which may be advanced on either side to resolve the issue. Finally, the divergent approaches to analogous questions of natural resource ownership taken by the Hawaii Supreme Court and the Federal District Court in Hawaii in recent years are contrasted to indicate that the choice of forum may be important in resolving the problem

Topics: legal, minerals, royalty, Hawaii, Law--Periodicals--Hawaii
Publisher: William S. Richardson School of Hawaii, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Year: 1979
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