“We’re seeing a growing helium industry moving forward and establishing its roots, which will in-turn drive more Canadian industry.”

Those were the words of be Dr. David Dwight Johnson, CEO of Canada’s Imperial Helium Corporation, when he today (2nd July) joined gasworld Global Managing Editor, Rob Cockerill, on gasworld TV’s latest webinar, Helium: A Year of Change.

Focusing on Imperial Helium, and the role it plays within the Canadian helium market, Dr. Johnson, explained, “Imperial Helium has taken a different route to identification and monetisation of helium. Like everyone else, we’re targeting opportunities which create significant return for our investors, but our approach is different in that we’re looking for helium where it’s already been found - and we’re doing this so we can focus on appraisal of it instead of exploration.”

“To do this, we’ve leveraged heavily on our established knowledge and experience in the western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, and by establishing a clear path to monetisation. This approach has the advantage of increasing the efficiency of the available capital that we have, and reducing the risk normally associated with junior stage resource companies.

“In terms of looking at where helium has already been found, in Canada the resources belong to the crown and in the western provinces, essentially all well data becomes public after about one year. So, in Alberta, Northeastern B.C., there are about 650,000 wells, 190,000 of those have gas analysis, so it’s a lot of data. We’ve culled that data and built a proprietary database.” 

Whilst analysing such data, Imperial Helium then came across the Steveville structure. “It’s it’s a significant structure,” Dr. Johnson explained. ”It’s about 95 square miles an area, and we’ve captured the land over top of it. Now, Stevenville also has a great history to it, so the structure was being drilled by the Standard Oil of British Columbia back in late1939 in the backdrop of World War Two, it had just begun.” 

Highlighting how Imperial Helium has taken such acreage and is now utilising the land, Dr. Johnson, continued, “We’ve [Imperial Helium] has estimated the Steveille contains about 1.1 billion cubic feet (bcf) of helium, and what we’ve done is we’ve secured the land and we started a two well program to appraise what was a discovery in 1940 - that’s really the strategy that we’ve taken going forward.”

The result is that throughout the summer we’re going to be drilling wells and we’ll be testing the wells, and so we’ll come around towards a third party or independent resource assessment in the fourth quarter of this year.” 

Significant supply is required

Moving from the northern hemisphere in Canada to Australia in the southern hemisphere, next up on the expert panel was Justyn Wood, CEO of Noble Helium. Committed to exploring the helium potential of the East African Rift System in Tanzania, Wood shared details of the company’s ongoings in South Africa as well as his thoughts on the wider helium market. 

“Global Helium formed four years ago, we have very significant landholding or acreage holding in the rift basins of Tanzania. We believe, and we’ve scoured the world to understand, that this is a truly unique geology, and we think that this could be one of the world’s best untested helium generation systems,” he said.

“We’ve got a global team anchored by some pretty high-profile investor, and we are in the process of right now od raising capital to move forward with our drilling program in Tanzania. We’ve done our foundation exploration work, we know what we’re dealing with across the entire basin, actually, and now we’re moving forward to hopefully drilling next year.”

Continuing discussion, Wood then responded to a question about “the new era of helium sourcing”. On that, he said, “The demand for helium is going up. We need more helium, and a significant supply is required to replace what has been the main supply from the US. We think Tanzania offers a very significant opportunity to provide that diversity supply, obviously with different supply routes and the geology.”

“I think there’s no question that there’s going to be plenty of helium available over the next decade, which is excellent. The demand for helium is going up.”

Membrane technologies 

The third and final panellist was Alex Evans, Business Development Manager of Membranes at Evonik Membrane Technology – and no stranger to gasworld, having already featured on a previous webinar and contributed multiple articles.

Talking the audience through Evonik’s membrane technologies, Evans, said, “Evonik has a variety of membrane technologies, including our Sepuran hollow fibre brand, like you mentioned specifically for gas separation. We also have our organic solvent nano filtration or OSN membranes in our new volatile organic compound or VOC membrane.”

They’ve all been optimised for various markets and specifically for Speuran, we focused our noble brand, on producing and recovering helium with best-in-class yields. Sepuran noble membranes offer a new opportunity for helium sources that were previously thought to be uneconomic to produce.”

There are many assets which were already analysed, maybe sometimes decades ago, that were found to contain something like 95% nitrogen, 1-2% percent helium and maybe a little bit of hydrocarbon. 

Given the price for natural gas, those wells were not to be considered economic and therefore were probably captained and left in place. What companies around the world and what their people are realising now is that that helium itself is worth producing, but they need a way to separate the nitrogen and the hydrocarbons out from the helium without losing any or as little as possible of that helium.”

“This is exactly where Sepuran membranes come in, Evonik’s membranes can do exactly that. My proposition to the market is to re-evaluate any wells that they looked at or that other people looked at in the past and may contain small amounts of helium, especially if other gases or mostly nitrogen and hydrocarbons.”