Helium Shortage 4.0 began on 1st July 2021 when a four-month maintenance outage of the US Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Crude Helium Enrichment Unit (CHEU) removed more than 10% of worldwide capacity from the market.
While the severity of the shortage probably peaked in the first half of 2022, the shortage has persisted for the last 15 months and there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to when Helium Shortage 4.0 will finally come to an end.
As most people who follow the helium market know, 2022 was expected to be a year of transition from tight helium supply to ample supply, due to the start of production from Gazprom’s huge Amur Project. At full capacity, with three trains each running close to their 750 million standard cubic feet (MMSCF) annual capacity, the Amur Project has the potential to increase global helium supply by roughly one-third.
After a brief start-up in September 2021, the plant was taken down according to plan to complete construction. While the helium plant was down, the gas processing plants that provide feedgas to the plant experienced a fire and an explosion that knocked the Amur out of commission for what is expected to be the entirety of 2022. In addition to the lack of production from Amur, helium supply has been negatively impacted by another extended outage of the CHEU that lasted from mid-January through to mid-June, planned maintenance outages that reduced output from Qatar during the first quarter (Q1), reduced output from Algeria due to the war in Ukraine, and a fire at a natural gas processing plant in Haven, Kansas.
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