Add Helium to the Supply Chain Crisis List

Guest “Everything you never wanted to know about helium” by David Middleton

Free-For-All In Helium Market Could Send Prices Sky-High
By Tom Kool – Mar 30, 2022

The gas that is critical for everything from supercomputing and space travel to MRIs and medical and scientific research was facing a supply shortage even before Russia launched a war on Ukraine. 

Now, the supply squeeze is on war-footing, and some investors are on the lookout for a North American supplier that can get this gas to the market–fast. 

The gas is helium…

The backbone of much of our existing technology …

And the beating heart of our future technology. 

While a helium land rush was already at full throttle after the Federal government shut down its helium reserve in the third quarter of last year, the supply of this gas is facing another big hit with Russia’s war on Ukraine. 

Earlier this week, Algeria–a key supplier–was forced to shut down its helium operations because of soaring natural gas demand in Europe. 

[…]

America’s Biggest Helium Play?

In our view, Total Helium is parked in the right place at exactly the right time. 

The “right place” is the Hugoton natural gas field in the Kansas-Oklahoma panhandle. 

Hugoton is the largest natural gas field in the United States, and the largest conventional natural gas play in North America, having already produced 75 trillion cubic feet of methane. 

The field has already produced some 300 BCF of helium. 

Now that the Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, has been shut down and all its helium auctioned off, Hugoton has become one of the most important helium supply sources in North America. 

[…]

OilPrice.com

Most natural gas contains at least a trace of helium. However, commercially recoverable concentrations generally require two (2) geological factors:

  1. The natural gas reservoir must overlie fractured granitoid basement rocks.
  2. The caprock must form a particularly impermeable seal.
Helium-bearing natural gas deposits: Deposit model for helium-bearing natural gas fields in the United States. Helium is produced by the decay of uranium and thorium in granitoid basement rocks. The liberated helium is buoyant and moves toward the surface in porosity associated with basement faults. The helium then moves upward through porous sedimentary cover until it is trapped with natural gas under beds of anhydrite or salt. These are the only laterally-persistent rock types that are able to trap and contain the tiny, buoyant helium atoms. This geological situation only occurs at a few locations in the world and is why rich helium accumulations are rare. (Geology.com)
Helium-bearing natural gas deposits: Map showing the natural gas fields that serve as important sources of helium in the United States. The natural gas produced from these fields contains between 0.3% to over 7% helium. The helium is removed from the gas for commercial sale. Image by Geology.com using location data from the United States Geological Survey. [2] (Geology.com)

As early as 2011, it was suggested that helium might eventually become a primary drilling target, rather than just a byproduct of natural gas production.

Total Helium might just be making the right play at the right time. They have built up a large acreage position in and around the Hugoton natural gas field.

Hugoton has produced over 300 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas along with 75 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of helium over the past 100 years. While natural gas prices are at their highest level since 2014.

Monthly Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price (MHHNGSP). St. Louis Fed

Helium prices are approaching escape velocity…

Helium price ($/mcf) Total Helium

Natural gas is trading at about $6.60/mcf this afternoon. In 2018, helium was going for $280/mcf. (mcf = thousand cubic feet). That price is currently skyrocketing, because… government mismanagement.

Helium supply crunch looms as US alters storage strategy
posted by Will Phillips
in Supply chain
23 February 2022

A vital helium reserve in the US that supplies the global market will stop selling to the public in September 2022, threatening a supply crunch.

The US government has owned up to 1bn cubic meters of helium gas in a Federal Helium Reserve (FHR) – managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – since 1925. It is now disposing of its remaining helium and assets by transfer to other federal bodies and public sales.

The end of public sales in September, alongside major incidents at a helium factory in Russia – a key supplier – and tensions with Ukraine, mean prices are expected to skyrocket.

Tom Kool, head of operations at price-tracking website Oilprice, said: “A helium supply crunch may be growing more critical with each passing day… The world is quickly coming to grips with one of the biggest supply squeezes of our times.”

Helium gas prices have risen dramatically since 2019, when the US government sold at a rate of $280 per million cubic feet (Mcf). Now that figure has more than doubled, selling for up to $600/Mcf.

The US produces 40% of the world’s helium supply, with the majority coming from the FHR. The FHR has reserved all helium found on federal land since 1925, and purchased crude helium extracted by natural gas producers for storage at its facility in Amarillo, Texas. This purchasing policy accumulated 1bn cubic meters of helium by 1995 and led to the reserve being $1.4bn in debt.

The FHR is currently the only helium storage facility in the world and has sold crude helium to private companies since 1996, often at below-market prices, in order to clear the debt.

The FHR was established to provide gas for airships and in the 1950s supplied the government with coolant for the Cold War and Space Race. 

[…]

CIPS.org

For nearly 100 years, the US government controlled the production, storage and sales of helium, essentially driving the program out of business. The FHR accumulated 1 billion cubic meters (~35Bcf) of helium and $1.4 billion in debt. Fortunately, the USGS estimates that there’s a lot of recoverable helium left in the ground…

USGS Estimates 306 Billion Cubic Feet of Recoverable Helium in the United States

Agency releases first-ever assessment of recoverable helium

By Communications and Publishing September 28, 2021

The natural gas reservoirs of the United States contain an estimated 306 billion cubic feet of recoverable helium, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey. This is the first-ever estimate of recoverable helium resources from the USGS.

“This helium assessment is a perfect application of our long-standing research on geologic reservoirs ranging from natural gas resources to carbon dioxide storage potential,” said Sarah Ryker, USGS associate director for energy and mineral resources. “This publicly available assessment will provide an unbiased estimate of the remaining volume of helium that private markets can rely on.”

Helium is a lighter-than-air gas that is primarily used in medical imaging such as MRIs, semiconductor manufacturing, laser welding, aerospace, defense and energy programs. Almost all commercial helium supplies come from the production of natural gas. As the natural gas is pumped to the surface, it brings other gases such as helium along with it. The helium can then be captured and stored separately from the natural gas.

Helium is considered a nonrenewable resource because it is produced with other non-renewable gases and it is also light enough to escape Earth’s gravity into space.

The United States is the leading supplier of helium for the world, producing 2.15 billion cubic feet of helium (61 million cubic meters) in 2020, or about 44% of the total global production. This assessment represents about 150 years of supply at 2020 U.S. production levels. However, because most production of helium is as a byproduct of natural gas production, it is unlikely that all 306 billion cubic feet of helium would be produced.

A significant portion of the Nation’s helium production has historically come through the Federal Helium Program, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The USGS tracks helium production, both in the United States and globally, in its annual Mineral Commodity Summaries. These estimates have included both production from private wells and releases from the Federal Helium System.

This assessment of helium resources was undertaken by the USGS under the direction of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013. It was informed by assessments of geologic carbon dioxide storage potential and studies of other energy-related gases.

The assessment report is entitled “National Assessment of Helium Resources Within Known Natural Gas Reservoirs” and can be accessed here. USGS commodity information on helium can be found here. To find out more about USGS energy assessments and other energy research, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website, sign up for our Newsletter, and follow us on Twitter. More information about USGS commodity data for helium and more than 90 other mineral commodities can be found here. All other USGS mineral resource information can be found here.

USGS

306 Bcf would represent about 150 years’ worth of current annual production. Unsurprisingly, the assessment (Brennan et al., 2021) found that 99% of the recoverable helium was in the Rocky Mountains and Mid-Continent regions, where the natural gas reservoirs generally overlie fractured granitoid rocks and are overlain with particularly impermeable sealing formations.

Here’s a schematic cross-section of the Panhandle Field in the Hugoton complex and the Anadarko Basin:

Figure 1-3. South-north cross-section, Anadarko Basin (after Johnson, 1989; Dutton and Garnett, 1989; Pippin, 1970). (Sorenson, 2003)

The primary reservoirs are Early Permian dolomitic carbonates, with Middle Permian evaporites (mainly anhydrite) providing the seal. The hydrocarbons are sourced from Devonian, Mississippian and Pennsylvanian shales (Ball et al., 1991). The helium is sourced from the underlying fractured Cambrian-Precambrian igneous basement rocks.

It’s interesting to note that the Palo Duro Basin, just south of the Amarillo Uplift has very little hydrocarbon production. This appears to be due to a lack of sufficiently thermally mature source rocks (Rose, 1986).

The definitive characteristics of this play are its setting in the central portion of the Palo Duro Basin and
the Pennsylvanian and Permian ages of its reservoirs. The main weakness of this play is apparent lack of source rock.

USGS, 1995

The Granite Wash formation, an excellent reservoir, directly overlays the Precambrian igneous basement in the Palo Duro basement. Whereas, in the Anadarko Basin, there is a very thick organic-rich sequence of sedimentary rocks in between the reservoir rocks and the Precambrian igneous basement… Coincidence? (Rhetorical).

Terrestrial helium is a nonrenewable resource because Earth makes it a lot more slowly than we produce it… What happens if we run out of helium on Earth? Ralph Kramden has the answer:

“Bang zoom… to the Moon!”

14 March 2019
Helium-3: Lunar Gold Fever
Astrophysics | Energy | Nuclear energy | Physics | Space

In 1986, scientists at the Institute of Fusion Technology at the University of Wisconsin estimated that the lunar “soil”, called the regolith, contains one million tons of helium-3 (3He), a material that could be used as fuel to produce energy by nuclear fusion. According to the study, mining it would be a profitable undertaking: the energy produced by the helium-3 would be 250 times greater than that needed to extract this resource from the Moon and transport it to Earth, where the lunar reserves of helium-3 could supply human needs for centuries.

The analysis of the researchers, based on samples collected by the Apollo missions, triggered a fever for this new lunar gold, which would be worth billions of dollars for those who controlled it. However, more than 30 years later, not a single gram has been collected yet, and there are those who say that it will never happen, because —according them— helium-3 has only served to inflate an enormous balloon of unfounded speculation.

The nuclear fusion of light atoms, such as the hydrogen isotopes deuterium (2H) and tritium (3H), has been seen for decades as the energy source of the future, inexhaustible and much less polluting than the fission of heavy atoms such as uranium. However, the technological development needed for it to be a practical and energy-efficient option still keeps researchers busy, and it is not an entirely clean energy: the fusion of deuterium and tritium produces neutrons, particles that cause radioactive contamination and that cannot be contained with electromagnetic fields, since they lack an electrical charge.

Against this, helium-3 (a non-radioactive isotope of the gas used to inflate balloons) offers remarkable advantages: its fusion with deuterium is more efficient than deuterium-tritium and does not release neutrons but protons, which can be easily contained thanks to their positive charge. In addition, it is possible to capture its energy to produce electricity directly, without the need for a water heating process to move turbines, as in current nuclear fission plants.

[…]

BBVA Open Mind

Let’s go! Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt has already written up the business plan!

References

Ball, M. M.; Henry, Mitchell E.; Frezon, Sherwood E.; Petroleum geology of the Anadarko Basin region, Province (115), Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas; 1991; OFR; 88-450-W.

Brennan, S.T., Rivera, J.L., Varela, B.A., and Park, A.J., 2021, National assessment of helium resources within known natural gas reservoirs: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2021–5085, 5 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20215085.

Rose, P R. Petroleum geology of the Palo Duro Basin, Texas Panhandle. United States: N. p., 1986. Web.

Schmitt H (2006) Return to the Moon: exploration, enterprise, and energy in the human settlement of space. Springer, New York

Sorenson, Raymond. (2003). A dynamic model for the Permian Panhandle and Hugoton fields, Western Anadarko basin. Search and Discovery Article #20015. Adapted for online presentation from poster session presented at the 2003 AAPG Mid-Continent Section Meeting, Tulsa, Oklahoma, October 12-14, 2003.

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John Garrett
April 12, 2022 6:14 am

As always, thank you Mr. Middleton for your contributions to this invaluable website.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  John Garrett
April 12, 2022 6:38 am

I’ll second that. On the topic of helium, if I were really paranoid, I’d be inclined to think that the Feds did away with the helium reserve in order to curtail the launching of weather balloons, given that data from radio sondes always seems to contradict output from the GCMs.

Gerald the Mole
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
April 12, 2022 7:05 am

I seem to remember that a few years ago the US Government got rid of a helium reserve. Looks like smart forward thinking!

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
April 12, 2022 5:15 pm

A lot of high-altitude balloons use hydrogen, because it’s immensely cheaper than helium. Included are radiosondes, whose concept of operations is summarized as “pop and drop”, i.e. the balloon ascends to its maximum altitude, undergoes a pressure burst, and drops its payload on a parachute. It’s a very elegant, “not much can go wrong with” approach, and has been used in scores of millions of radiosondes worldwide. The flammability of hydrogen isn’t really a factor in unmanned balloons (and even in some manned balloons).

John Garrett
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2022 7:38 am

For all his failings (and there were many), Boone Pickens made a lot of people aware of the Hugoton field and its uncommon properties.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Garrett
Gary Pearse
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2022 8:15 am

The Hugoton field was the first to have a fracking experiment (by BP). It didn’t seem to be a game changer at that time, and subsequent efforts didnt bear much fruit until ‘horizontal’ drilling was invented.

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Gary Pearse
April 12, 2022 4:00 pm

NOT BP.
BP did do the first hydraulic fracs and certainly not in the Hugoton Field. It was Stanolind Oil and Gas Company the exploration and production arm of Standard Oil of Indiana. Stanolind later became Amoco. Amoco was merged (actually taken over) by BP in about 1999 much to the detriment of most Amoco employees.

Stanolind (Amoco) did other early hydraulic fracs in the Denver basin and at Ignacio Dome in the San Juan Basin in 1949 and remained a leading hydraulic fracture technology and research company for 5 decades. Amoco was the largest natural gas producer in the USA and had very large, dominant and successful natural gas operations in the Hugoton, San Juan, and in the Denver Basin, all of which required hydraulic fracture stimulations. BP took over in 1999 and disposed of almost all of these assets and dismantled the research centers.

Interestingly, the natural gas reservoirs in the Hugoton field are very shallow (2000-3000 feet) and are “under pressured”, which means the fluid pressure is less than that exerted by a column of water equal to the depth of the gas zones. Guess what happens when you drill into these gas zones with the drill hole full of water.

Tom Halla
April 12, 2022 6:27 am

At those prices, drilling for helium alone might be profitable.

bigoilbob
Reply to  Tom Halla
April 12, 2022 6:34 am

True. Might even eclipse the current source of most Amarillo business activity.

https://www.bigtexan.com/72-oz-steak/

PaulID
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2022 8:48 am

Mine too

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2022 5:34 pm

We should organize a WUWT “re”union (*) at the Big Texan. What an ideal venue for discussion of energy/climate/politics over a Texas-size meal.

I’d buy one round of drinks!

(*) the “re” for never actually have had a “first” union.

observa
April 12, 2022 6:52 am
observa
April 12, 2022 7:10 am

More bad news I’m afraid climate changers. We’re gunna have to stick with the plant food since it’s pretty obvious we can’t keep up with lithium battery storage for the treclic Utopia-
Hydrogen 11 times worse than CO2 for climate, says new report (newatlas.com)

Curious George(@moudryj)
Reply to  observa
April 12, 2022 7:48 am

Iit reacts with oxygen to produce a potent greenhouse gas 🙂

observa
Reply to  Curious George
April 12, 2022 9:39 pm

Everywhere they turn the news just keeps getting worse for the plant food hysterics-
The Biden administration gives a green light to a fuel that could be even dirtier than regular gas (msn.com)
Obviously all this bad stuff has been computer modelled and you know how it is with the computer models climate changers?

fretslider
April 12, 2022 7:12 am

A few good gulps of Helium can make you sound just like AOC – and Minnie Mouse.

Old Man Winter
Reply to  fretslider
April 12, 2022 8:49 am

Even though you can sound like AOC, you’ll NEVER, EVER even come
close to being as stupid as she is. She’s one of a kind. And that’s a
really, really, really good thing! 😮 😉

eo
Reply to  Old Man Winter
April 12, 2022 3:13 pm

I dont think so. Therw thousands more stupid than she is just in her congressional district and not counting those in other districts that could not vote for her.

fretslider
April 12, 2022 7:21 am

We need a ‘worse than we thought’ scale. We could call it the griff scale. 

I would imagine that successful nuclear fusion would register 11 griffs and a total meltdown.

Bob Tisdale(@bobtisdale)
Editor
Reply to  fretslider
April 12, 2022 8:06 am

Thanks, fretslider. “‘griff’ scale” made me laugh.

Regards,
Bob

Old Man Winter
Reply to  fretslider
April 12, 2022 8:41 am

You may need to turbocharge your scale as Griffo can crank
it up to 11 while asleep. Griffo’s the “master of faux disaster”!
😮 😉

Last edited 1 month ago by Old Man Winter
Gary Pearse
April 12, 2022 7:34 am

David, I’m a geologist but I always get a big boost in geological knowledge from your wonderful posts. I knew that natural gas was the commercial source of helium, but that was that.

What about petroleum in that geo setting. I guess it would be in the gas and liquids separated from petroleum, but with the bulk of the fluid being oil, it should have the potential to receive ~ the same amount of H, richly concentrated in the gaseous fraction, maybe.

Also, I wonder if there any possible traps of mainly H, say under overthrust sheets with evaporates in places without oil and gas? And what about associated with uranium deposits (collect above the shaft) from mine working and from ventilation exhaust?

April 12, 2022 7:39 am

He3 and He4 can eventually be produced by fusion. Fuse a proton with a Deuterium and you get He3. Fuse the He3 with another Deuterium and you get He4 and the proton needed to create the He3. Proof of concept comes from the Sun.

Rich Davis
Reply to  co2isnotevil
April 12, 2022 4:16 pm

Yeah any business plan that depends on fusion power plants’ demand for 3He is permanently 40 years ahead of its time, I reckon.

But you’re right, all they need to do is assemble enough hydrogen to build another sun, and the concept will be proven. How hard can that be?

Reply to  Rich Davis
April 12, 2022 7:32 pm

My preference is a directed beam fusion approach; high energy protons and he3 collisions with low energy and readily focused D2. The biggest technical issue is separating the He3, He4 and proton fusion products from the colliding beams.

The Sun also creates the D2 by proton-proton fusion., but that’s a step we can bypass since we have plenty of D2 available in the oceans,

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  co2isnotevil
April 13, 2022 4:36 pm

We’d have to bypass proton-proton fusion, since it could never be done on a human scale – ever, regardless of technical advances. The proton-proton fusion cross section peaks at 1E-25 barns at 1 MeV temperature, and yields only 1.4 MeV. That it can happen in stars at all is due to their stupendous density, and astronomical size.

Yes, we have plenty of deuterium in the oceans. But helium 3/deuterium fusion is certainly not more efficient than D-D or D-T fusion. Its fusion cross section is 0.5 barns at a temperature of 300 keV, contrasted with D-T fusion with a cross section of 5 barns at 80 keV. Helium3/deuterium yields 18.3 MeV, while D-T yields 17.8 MeV, a slight difference considering the enormously high temperature for helium3/deuterium fusion. The latter may not even be possible, given the enormous loss of energy due to bremsstrahlung radiation at such high temperatures.

Lack of neutrons in a fusion reaction is a bug, rather than a feature, IMHO. We need scads of neutrons to breed more tritium, to transmute abundant but otherwise worthless actinides into useful fissile fuels (see 232Th), and to help get rid of nuclear waste.

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
April 19, 2022 9:06 am

It should be easier to turn He3-D fusion into useful electricity. The product is for all intents a current of positive H4 ions. Modulate the fusion and now we have an AC current of H4 ions from which useful power can be efficiently extracted with what amounts to a transformer.

The bremsstrahlung radiation can be minimized by keeping the D cold and only the He3 ‘hot’, but not hot in a Brownian motion sense, but as an energetic collated beam colliding with what for all intents and purposes is a relatively motionless, but dense, beam of D. The cold nature of this beam makes it easily focused and deflected into the high energy He3 beam using the same techniques used in a CRT resulting in fusion much like how it would happen with a Z-pinch.

TonyL
April 12, 2022 7:56 am

He is the ultimate in non-recyclable elements. If you let it escape, it just takes off and rises up to the top of the atmosphere. There it is blown away by the solar wind and is gone forever. Let the stuff get away from you once and it is gone for good. There is no recovering it.

Chaswarnertoo
Reply to  TonyL
April 12, 2022 8:23 am

As a spoilsport it ought not to be used for party balloons.

NavarreAggie
Reply to  Chaswarnertoo
April 12, 2022 8:45 am

I agree with you, but I think the pricing situation is going to take care of this little wasteful activity.

joe x
Reply to  NavarreAggie
April 12, 2022 10:13 am

not to worry, we can always fill happy birthday balloons with hydrogen. now that would be a party.

Earl Rodd
Reply to  joe x
April 12, 2022 1:18 pm

Hydrogen in small quantities (like a balloon) goes “poof” if you put a match to it,but that’s all. I know that in school chemistry lab we made H2 in jars and tried this. I doubt party balloons are really much of a danger. I think there may be a bigger problem in that H2 is a smaller molecule and escapes the balloon more easily.

TonyG
Reply to  joe x
April 12, 2022 5:46 pm

Tie them off with fuse cord, light, and release 🙂

2hotel9
April 12, 2022 8:10 am

Thanks, linking this to several people!

ResourceGuy
April 12, 2022 8:38 am

You finance the moon operations and I’ll get backers for local air extraction with other component fractionate separation. Just don’t ask for taxpayer subsidies for your venture. P.S. there are some other interesting granites to explore if the price incentives existed.

Rud Istvan
April 12, 2022 9:17 am

Neat discussion. Did not know anything except the questionable decision to close the national helium reserve.

ResourceGuy
Reply to  Rud Istvan
April 12, 2022 9:24 am

A lot of studies went into that decision from commodity experts.

mkelly
April 12, 2022 9:52 am

One of the top three posts ever here.

One question, why did feds get rid of reserve?

mkelly
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2022 12:36 pm

Thank you.

Funny how something that was to operate via a revolving fund with no tax payer money could be over a billion dollars in debt.

Peta of Newark
April 12, 2022 10:23 am

C’mon then, bring on the Devil’s Avocado….

Quote:Helium is a lighter-than-air gas that is primarily used in medical imaging such as MRIs, semiconductor manufacturing, laser welding, aerospace, defense and energy programs.

  • medical imaging. Was there something wrong with looking after yourself= not getting ill in the first place and employing doctors who are not simply puppets of money grubbing Big Pharma (Medicare spends as much just on kidney disease as the UK spends in its entire healthcare system)
  • semiconductor manufacturing: Why? Why does THE most energy intensive industry that could ever be devised need Helium. Even before we get into the hideous mess that computers and their modelling have now got us into
  • laser welding: Why? Is that just an excuse for finally finding a job for lasers to actually do? Welding has been around since we first worked out ‘metals’. Metals are useful things, lasers marginally less so and have been since since the day they were invented. In any case, what’s wrong with Argon as a welding gas. or even just a vacuum. or even just a soldering iron?
  • aerospace: What aerospace’ Lifting balloons – is that= aerospace. Otherwise just (yet) another device for creaming money off people
  • defense: How the fugg is Helium defensive. Shouldn’t somebody have told Mr Putin that – thus have certainly have stopped him in his tracks. Can’t we all hear Brandon saying: “Listen up Putin, you just stop what you’re doing or we’ll set The Helium onto you
  • energy programs: Well that’s been a total waste of time = letting Little Boys idle their days away playing with Big Toys. Toys that might, as they have for decades now, might produce some vaguely imagined ‘good’ inside the next couple of generations

sorry people, can we have a little less of the unquestioning wide-eyed gobsmacked awe ## and a touch more realism?

## = to all intents what defines a warmist

Last edited 1 month ago by Peta of Newark
April 12, 2022 10:46 am

Thanks for this great insight, David.

The company I work for will be impacted by rising helium price as it is the biggest maker of high field MRI and NMR scanners for research (but not clinical).

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Phil Salmon
April 12, 2022 5:54 pm

What else could helium prices do, except rise?

ResourceGuy
April 12, 2022 11:23 am

It makes you wonder where the uranium roll front deposits are.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  ResourceGuy
April 12, 2022 11:34 am

Hillary sold them to the Russians. /s

Olen
April 12, 2022 12:33 pm

No one else has been able to screw things up to this level and have the media for the most part silent. Have not heard anything from the Congress on the Democrat side and cannot expect any push back from the ever silent Republicans. Thanks for this excellent article.

MAK
April 12, 2022 1:10 pm

Could some helium have been trapped somehow when the earth was formed rather than it all coming from the decay of uranium?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  MAK
April 12, 2022 2:52 pm

I don’t think so. The rocky planets were formed from the Sun’s ‘solid’ accretion disk. Any helium would have had plenty of time to escape from those particles. OTOH, Jupiter (a giant gas planet) is about 90% hydrogen and 10% helium. Maybe it also has a small solid core—nobody knows.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Rud Istvan
April 13, 2022 5:20 pm

Maybe it also has a small solid core—nobody knows.”

I do, and for $19.95, I’ll tell you…

asiaseen
Reply to  Rud Istvan
April 13, 2022 9:47 pm

Jupiter (a giant gas planet) is about 90% hydrogen and 10% helium.

Now there’s a good space mining project potential scam

Peter Fraser
April 12, 2022 1:17 pm

I find it strange that helium 3 should be present in large quantities in the regolith (soil) of the moon. As David says to find helium in a gas well on earth the cap over the reservoir must be of an impervious material. Why helium would remain in the soil of the moon with its lessor gravity is difficult to comprehend.
On a personal matter I have had hundreds of thousands cubic feet of helium pass through my lungs while working as a saturation diver for offshore oil. For a number of years this was expired to waste until feasible reclaim systems were developed

Richard Page
Reply to  Peter Fraser
April 12, 2022 2:07 pm

Other way round – the He3 isn’t produced on the Moon and stayed there over time, it’s from the sun and has been driven into the lunar regolith by the solar wind. An easy way of testing this would be to compare samples from the light and dark sides to see if they contain different amounts of He3.

OweninGA
Reply to  Richard Page
April 12, 2022 2:36 pm

You know there is no dark side of the moon, right?

It has a 28 day +/- long day. As it goes around the Earth the back side get illuminated more and more as the new moon approaches. It is locked with the same face always toward the Earth, but the whole thing sees the sun over a 28 day period.

Richard Page
Reply to  OweninGA
April 12, 2022 3:46 pm

D’oh. My bad – thought it had one side locked towards the sun. Should have remembered the basics – on the bright side (heh) more He3!

Rich Davis
Reply to  Peter Fraser
April 12, 2022 4:34 pm

It supposedly comes from the solar wind. It seems odd to think of helium not floating up. But if you think about it, helium is lighter than air, but much heavier than vacuum. So if you have a lot of it bombarding the lunar surface, there is no buoyancy to float it up off the surface after it penetrates the surface.

James F. Evans
April 12, 2022 4:30 pm

What are the underlying fault patterns in the basement rock in the Palo Duro Basin?

James F. Evans
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2022 8:17 pm

I appreciate that. I also looked to see what I could find.

A 1982 report on feasibility of the basin being a nuclear waste repository had a graphic of the geology. What I saw was distinguished from the other basin’s image, you provided, not near the amount of faulting, nor the uplift or subsidence.

Perhaps that is why the authors of the report looked at it as a potential nuclear wast repository, the geologic structure was stable, thus potentially safer as a repository.

(Although, no repository was built.)

Hydrocarbons of heavier weight & length fall out earlier in the ‘hydrocarbon column’, thus, heavy hydrocarbons are most always found under oil and then natural gas, and in rare occasions, with the right cap rocks and fractured granite, helium is at the top.

Rock laced with heavy hydrocarbons below lighter hydrocarbons in a vertical column is consistent with abiotic oil theory.

James F. Evans
Reply to  David Middleton
April 13, 2022 9:25 am

I appreciate the discussion in the material you provided, thank you.

Question: why would Palo Duro Basin be absent the ancient algae that the basins to the north & south apparently had (according to “fossil” theory)?

The Palo Duro Basin, Permian Basin, Texas is an asymmetric, relatively shallow, intracratonic basin”

The key is that the basin in intracratonic. As you point out the small amount of hydrocarbons in the basin are concentrated above the areas with the most uplift & subsidence.

Rock laced with heavy hydrocarbons below lighter hydrocarbons in a vertical column is consistent with abiotic oil theory.”

Mr. Middleton, you disagree with abiotic oil theory, ok, but the fact is that the description I provided is consistent with abiotic oil theory.

Are you familiar with abiotic oil theory?

And fact is that the quoted description is often exactly how oil & natural gas are found in situ … above an area of heavy hydrocarbons.

What you call “source” rocks are in reality residue rocks, the residue being the heavy hydrocarbons which because of their physical properties do not migrate as high in the geologic column as lighter & smaller hydrocarbons.

You never came to grips with why the basin was thought to have potential for a nuclear waste repository.

(The graphic I saw in the 1982 report suggested a consistent “layer cake” geology with little subsidence or uplift.)

I’ll suggest the reason was because it was “intracratonic”, the same reason there isn’t a lot of hydrocarbons as opposed to its sister basins to the north & south.

Bill Rocks
April 12, 2022 5:05 pm

David,
Very good article. Thanks for your work. Just one thing. Your second figure,”Helium-bearing natural gas deposits” does not show the LaBarge Field in western Wyoming. It is located next to Riley Ridge field and is much larger. La Barge produces 40% of the USA helium from the Madison Limestone. Exxon is the operator. This is a huge anticline, structural trap. First production was 1986.

Dena
April 12, 2022 5:37 pm

Though there isn’t much oil in Arizona, it is a source of helium and possibly holds a good deal more than this article suggest. With the shortages, it might soon be another Arizona gold rush to recover it.
http://azgeology.azgs.arizona.edu/archived_issues/azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/archived_issues/Winter_2003.pdf

April 12, 2022 8:39 pm

Good article, David.
I have wondered if another overlooked source of helium might be the fracking of “hot shales”, shales with high gamma-ray signatures from embedded uranium.

April 12, 2022 9:19 pm

Hi David,

I wonder if you’ve thought of doing a similar post on another important gas…neon…I understand that most of the world’s neon comes(came) from the Ukraine. Do the US or any other countries have any useful reserves?

Earthling2
Reply to  Alastair Brickell
April 13, 2022 12:48 pm

I had never thought about Neon, so I Binged that and from a few different sources copy/pasted below…very interesting.

Neon is the fifth most abundant element in the universe. However, it is present in the Earth’s atmosphere at a concentration of just 18 parts per million. It is extracted by fractional distillation of liquid air.

Its only commercial source is the atmosphere, in which it is 18 parts per million by volume. Because its boiling point is −246 °C (−411 °F), neon remains, along with helium and hydrogen, in the small fraction of air that resists liquefaction upon cooling to −195.8 °C (−320.4 °F, the boiling point of liquid nitrogen).

About 70% of global neon supply is produced in Ukraine as a by-product of steel production in Russia. As of 2020, the company Iceblick, with plants in Odessa and Moscow, supplies 65 per cent of the world’s production of neon, as well as 15% of the krypton and xenon.

Reply to  Earthling2
April 13, 2022 1:51 pm

Many thanks for being much less lazy than I! As you say, a very interesting story.

Not quite sure just why it would be a by-product of steel production and why only in the USSR/Ukraine…do they use a different process to that in the US or China (one requiring the use of liquid air maybe)? Or is there a totally unrelated reason.

I had always assumed it came as a by-product of hydrocarbon accumulations but obviously I was wrong (again!). Sigh…

Earthling2
Reply to  Alastair Brickell
April 13, 2022 2:12 pm

The plot thickens…although I can’t seem to find out why only Russian steel production and Ukraine’s ability to purify it seem to be the main game in town. There has been no Neon shipments from Ukraine since the invasion started Feb 24th. Not good.

“Ukraine makes more than 90% of the high-grade neon in gas-phase lasers used to make chips produced by U.S. (and Taiwanese) semiconductor companies. The gas is a biproduct of Russian steel manufacturing which is purified in Ukraine, said market research company Techcet. Neon prices soared during the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014.”

https://www.fierceelectronics.com/electronics/ukraine-war-could-hurt-supplies-neon-palladium-needed-chips

Reply to  Earthling2
April 13, 2022 4:00 pm

Yes…it’s all a bit of a mystery (to me at least). Maybe there will be some steel manufacturing experts here who might be able to enlighten us.

Earthling2
April 13, 2022 9:22 am

Now I know more about Helium than I did yesterday. You need to put all these great posts together into a coffee table book, David, (full of pictures and graphs) so we could give them as gifts to friends and family who are all anti carbon. We all seem to take for granted what these fantastic resources have done for the advancement of the human project.

I once had an inquisitive kid ask me why if hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in the universe, why isn’t there more of those raw resources here on the good Earth. Good question, I said.

Last edited 1 month ago by Earthling2
StephenP
April 13, 2022 1:02 pm

This article along with the comments and discussion is a brilliant example of the mature and informative nature of this website.
Many thanks to all who contributed.

Reply to  David Middleton
April 13, 2022 1:53 pm

Apart from source rocks one assumes…

Buckeyebob
April 14, 2022 8:22 am

I guess Sheldon and Leonard could really not afford Helium today.

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