gasworld has learned from industry sources that helium production from the two plants in Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar restarted on or around 2nd July.
While some sources report that production is at full capacity, others speculate that it will take some time to create the steady flow of empty helium containers that would be required to run the Qatari plants at their full capacity.
Whatever the capacity, such a development is ultimately good news for global helium markets that were beginning to feel the impact of the loss of more than 25% of worldwide supply, since the diplomatic embargo was placed on Qatar by neighbouring countries on 5th June.
The helium supply chain can now begin to re-inflate and should gradually return to normal during the remainder of July and August, though caution is urged where the major hurdle of logistics is concerned.
With the plant shutting down on 12th June and restarting on 2nd July, the duration of the shutdown was just under three weeks – removing approximately 120 container loads of liquid helium from the market over that period, gasworld understands.
While this event resulted in disruption to world helium markets, as well as extra cost and inconvenience for the buyers of Qatari helium, it appears that the loss of Qatari supply will not result in an extended period of shortage like the industry experienced during both 2006-2007 and 2011-2013. Instead, this event will likely be looked at as a significant supply hiccup that once again served to remind both helium marketers and helium users of the fragility of the global helium supply chain and its exposure to political risk.
Furthermore, sources within the region state that while production may be back online, the movement of ISO tanks by chartered boats to and from Qatar is currently very limited and so, supply from Qatar will remain ’very much restricted’ until this is improved or the geo-political impasse is resolved. The same sources note that helium prices have only marginally responded to the position in Qatar and there is still a sizeable overhang in the market.
All of which means that, in looking ahead, we can likely expect helium markets to gradually return to their pre-outage balance of supply vs demand – but it is important to note that the buyers of Qatari helium remain inconvenienced by the loss of overland routes (and access to the Jebel Ali port) for shipping helium containers and they continue to work to establish new routes for shipping containers to/from Qatar via the port of Hamad. It is therefore understood that the situation will not truly return to normal for helium buyers until the dispute between Qatar and the Saudi-led group of countries who implemented the blockade has been settled.