Working to Reverse the Decline in Helium Reserves



This past August, in the high desert of eastern Utah, the country’s first helium-only gas well on federal lands was drilled and completed at Harley Dome. The well, the Flatirons Federal 4-1, was completed in the Entrada Sandstone at a depth of 965 feet. IACX Energy (iacx.com), with headquarters in Dallas, Texas, has partnered with Flatirons Resources of Denver, Colorado to develop the helium reserves located at Harley Dome.

IACX is now in the process of setting a helium recovery unit that will produce over 100,000 standard cubic feet of gaseous helium per day. At a time when the United States helium reserves are in decline, IACX is actively working to reverse this trend. The Harley Dome helium unit will represent IACX’s third helium recovery facility, a number that will be growing in the next six months. 

The Harley Dome helium field has remained largely dormant since its discovery in 1925 by Harley Bashor. Much to Bashor’s disappointment, the large volume of gas that was encountered when his cable tool rig dug into the shallow Entrada Sandstone was inert and would not burn. After sampling and analyzing the gas from his well, he found it contained 85 percent nitrogen and seven percent helium. Bashor walked away from the project, but before washing his hands of the failure, Bashor lent his first name to the field discovery. The Harley Dome helium field has remained unexploited ever since. In the 1920s and ’30s, there was a flurry of activity on the federal level as it related to the nation’s helium resources. The US government recognized that helium was a strategic element primarily for dirigibles and blimps, and it set forth to sever all helium rights from federal oil and gas leases. 

Additionally, two helium fields in Utah were set aside as national helium reserves by Presidential decree. On June 26, 1933, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order setting aside the Harley Dome field as US Helium Reserve #2, a designation that remained until the 1960s. Since the 1960s, a few prospectors have tried and failed to develop the Harley Dome helium resource. These failures were precipitated by several barriers, including: (1) the capture and purification of helium from Harley Dome was economically challenging, due to the gas’s unusual composition and volume/pressure profile; (2) the antiquated rules on the Federal level prohibits the extraction of helium from Federal lands as the “primary constituent” without the Secretary of the Interior’s consent (IACX obtained this consent). 

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