Helium in Wyoming

Kehoe, K.S.
Helium has been recognized as a critical and strategic element since World War I. This noble gas is indispens- able to a variety of industries ranging from healthcare to aerospace, but its supply is exhaustible. Currently, the only commercially viable helium accumulations are found in gas reservoirs, although very trace amounts also occur in groundwater, soils, and rocks. As a result, helium is pro- duced as a by-product of natural gas, but only when it can be done economically, and supplies remain dependent on trends in the natural gas industry. Increasing demand coupled with major shifts in the helium industry, natural gas production, and global geopolitics have driven a series of worldwide supply shortages and price spikes over the past two decades. These shortages underscore the neces- sity of helium for advanced manufacturing and research, propelling a new wave of interest and exploration for this resource.  Much has changed across the industry since the Wyoming State Geological Survey last covered the subject in depth (Clark, 1981; De Bruin, 1995). The Shute Creek gas plant in western Wyoming has established itself as one of the world’s largest, most reliable suppliers of refined helium. Globally, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has become another major source of helium, as the massive volumes of gas involved makes helium extraction from trace occurrences profitable. Lastly, federal helium operations are in the final stages of a decades-long privatization process, and the federal reserve of helium has been sold, marking the end of a program that held a dominant, often monopolistic position in the market.  The purpose of this publication is twofold: first, to make available a Wyoming-specific dataset of helium concentra- tions, with other gas analyses, from wells for use in future resource evaluation and exploration; and second, to provide a broad overview of the helium industry with a focus on factors influencing current trends.
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helium,gas,supply,Shute Creek gas plant,liquefied natural gas,resource evaluation
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