US Senator John Barrasso and Senator Mike Lee have sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, expressing their opposition to the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) recent proposal to remove helium and uranium from the list of critical minerals.
Barrasso, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), and Lee, ranking member of the ENR Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining, are calling on the secretary to retain helium and uranium on the Department of the Interior’s list of critical minerals.
The letter points out that as US helium production declines, Russia has made massive investments to take the place of the US in the global helium market.
The Senators say in the letter that “foreign political risk, military conflict, violent unrest, and anticompetitive and protectionist behaviour associated with helium” mean that the Biden administration should reconsider helium’s inclusion on the list.
The letter says, “US production of helium is rapidly declining and is expected to be 35% of world helium production by 2026. The two principal countries which will offset the decline in US production are Qatar and Russia. By 2026, they will account for up to 60% of the world’s helium production. However, USGS should not assume that both countries will be reliable sources of helium. Qatar was the target of an embargo between 2017 and early 2021, which halted its helium production for a month and upended the global helium market. Even absent any embargo, Qatar’s helium passes through the Straits of Hormuz, which has among the highest geopolitical tension in the world. Meanwhile, Russia has long withheld its natural resources for political ends. It repeatedly withheld natural gas from Ukraine between 2006 and 2014 and is withholding gas from Europe now. Finally, Algeria, the world’s fourth largest helium producer, has been in political crisis for years.”
Barrasso and Lee conclude in the letter, “As US production declines, Russia has made massive investments to take our place in the global helium market. Removing uranium and helium from the final list of critical minerals may signal that the Biden administration welcomes these developments. We think such a signal would be a grave and costly mistake for our country, especially at a time when political tensions between the US and Russia are at their highest level in generations.”