An insightful and thought-provoking day of presentations has come to a close at the Global Helium Summit in London, UK.

The event provided a platform for discussion and debate concerning the current and future dynamics in the global helium supply chain – arguably the hottest of topics in the industry at the moment.

This heightened sense of interest was exemplified throughout the day’s proceedings and was reflected upon by Spiritus Group’s John Raquet as he closed the event, “…it has been superb to see such a good and diverse turnout for this event.”

“Supply is going to change; what we have found today is that the supply side is going to change quite dramatically over the next six months alone. There will be more change going forward in the supply chain.”

“I thank all of the speakers for speaking, they have all been informative in various ways. We heard three presentations from three of the major players in the industry, we heard about what potentially going to happen with Qatar and the impact of Qatar II, and we heard about the US Government and the trials and tribulations going between the House and Senate.”

“A take-away from this,” he concluded, “is that actually there’s optimism, there’s growth that is going to occur. No-one has mentioned a decline here today; there is growth to be expected in this business. And we have heard some valid points about the potential future unconventional resources too.”

Global gravitas

More than 100 delegates from 16 countries gathered at the Royal Garden Hotel in London for the event, the first of its kind, highlighting the global scale of the challenges faced in the helium business.

While the strong demand for helium has remained steady, a number of shortcomings in supply have led to worldwide shortages, across a wide range of end-user sectors. From science to healthcare (MRI) to diving applications and party balloons, industry has struggled to quench its thirst for helium.

Planned and unplanned outages at key source sites, coupled with a lack of new capacity entering the market, have restricted supply. Against this backdrop, fears have intensified concerning the future fate of the BLM-operated US Federal Helium Reserve in Texas, as the clock ticks on new legislation to govern this resource – which currently accounts for up to 30% of global supply.

This was reflected upon in the first keynote presentation of the day by Air Products’ Walter L. Nelson, Director of Helium Sourcing and Supply Chain.

As recently as May (2013) Nelson was speaking at a US Senate Hearing to discuss the proposed Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski.

A number of other esteemed industry figures took to the summit stage throughout the day including Nick Haines of Linde Gas, Gerard Tan of Air Liquide, Phil Kornbluth of Global Gases, Dr. M’hamed Lakrimi of Siemens Magnet Technology and arguably an increasingly important player in the helium business, Gazprom.

The company was perhaps an especially notable participant at the event given its future aspirations in global helium supply.

Even if new helium legislation is passed and the Helium Cliff is avoided, it is expected that the Federal Helium Reserve will be depleted (except for a permanent 3 BCF stockpile) by 2020. Absent of new sources, this could leave a large hole in worldwide helium markets. However, this provides an opening in the market for Gazprom, which controls huge reserves of helium bearing natural gas in Eastern Siberian fields.

The company plans to implement a large-scale helium project in Russia’s Far East with start-up planned for 2018 and reaffirmed these plans for the East Siberian Gas Programme at the Global Helium Summit.

Other notable attendees at the event were CERN, STFC, Shell, ExxonMobil, and a variety of end-user companies.


Helium Summit 2013 live update

Catch-up in print and online

A full review of the Global Helium Summit will be published in the August issue of gasworld magazine. Alternatively, follow the link below to read the Live Update feed from the event as it happened.