Non-hydrocarbon-based helium supply in North America can meet increasing demands for more sustainable and lower emission production solutions, North American Helium’s Marlon McDougall told attendees during the last session on day two gasworld’s Helium Super Summit at the Westin Memorial City in Houston on Thursday.

North American Helium (NAH) claims to be the most active helium exploration company in the world and is the largest helium producer in Canada. NAH recently closed a non-brokered common share equity financing of approximately $127 million which will be used to advance the company’s active exploration and development plan for the 2021/22 drilling season and to bring additional helium production online in 2022.

NAH has been the most active helium driller in Saskatchewan with 37 wells drilled to date, and earlier this year started up its $32-million Battle Creek helium plant near Consul, Saskatchewan, the largest helium purification facility in Canada, three months ahead of schedule and under budget.

“Our land size in Saskatchewan is about the size of New Jersey,” McDougall said.

“The helium supply hub is shifting away from North America which is highlighting the fact that the BLM is in decline and this presents an opportunity for us to supply reliable and geopolitically secure helium. Also, most of the global supply of helium comes from hydrocarbon sources. There’s many places around the world where ESG concerns and carbon footprint reduction are required so we think non-hydrocarbon helium supply in North America can meet those demands.”

McDougall, North American Helium President and Chief Operating Officer, explained that processing non-hydrocarbon gas costs less.

“There are no difficult products to handle which decreases operating costs,” McDougall said.

“High pressure gas supply reduces compression in the processing facility, with limited rotating equipment. No egress /pipelines need to be built – and the off gas gets vented.

“Providing helium from nonhydrocarbon-based sources that results in significantly lower emissions is a significant opportunity.”

Another sizeable source for helium in North America is located at Ladder Creek, Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, which has liquefaction capacity of 1.5 MMcfd of helium. Durell Johnson, Tumbleweed Midstream CEO, outlined the Ladder Creek Expansion Plan and the potential growth of the plant.

Johnson said Tumbleweed is currently engaged with about 20 new entrants to the play at various stages of leasing, new 3D seismic and preparing drilling permit applications. By 2025, Johnson says he hopes Ladder Creek will produce just under 3.5 MMcf/d of helium.

Johnson said helium concentration in the area is 3-5%.

“Right now we can do 1.5 ISOs per day but we believe that can grow north of 400 ISOs per year,” Johnson said. “It’s just about getting the drills bits in the ground and get flowing.”

Beyond North America, Helium One is continuing to make progress in its aim to become a major helium producer in Tanzania. Helium One has a 4,512km2 licence area over three project areas, 100% owned, with high-grade surface seeps up to 10.6% of helium.

David Minchin, Helium One Global Limited CEO, explained the recent progress of the company as it aims to produce helium.

Helium One can produce carbon-neutral helium from its Tanzania source, which Minchin says is important for the future.

Minchin said, “As we transition towards a green economy, production of hydrocarbon will reduce. Existing production will decline and not be replaced. Helium One focuses on primary helium associated with nitrogen carrier gas.”

Stefano Marani, Renergen CEO

Elsewhere in Africa, Renergen is advancing and developing flagship Virginia Gas Project, located in Free State in South Africa and expects helium production from Virginia phase one by first quarter 2022 (February). Phase one helium reserves increased by 610% to 7.2Bcf and phase one methane reserves by 427% to 215.1 Bcf; commercial operation will begin in February 2022 with capacity of 350kg/day. Phase two, and 2024 turn on, is anticipated to build up to 44 Mmscf per day at full production and Marani said 65% of phase two anticipated production is pre sold to clients including Linde, Meser, Helium 24 and iSi.

Stefano Marani, Renergen CEO, said, “The amount of helium and natural gas under that field is absolutely astounding. Phase two will produce something like 380 standard cubic feet per annum of helium.”

Marani also outlined the potential of Cryo-Vacc, which utilises helium, in transporting Covid-19 vaccines around Africa for up to 35 days.