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Bureau of Mines / Minerals yearbook: Metals and minerals 1978-79
Year 1978-79, Volume 1 (1978-1979)

Foster, Russell J.
Helium,   pp. 423-431 ff. PDF (914.8 KB)


Page 423

Helium 
By Russell J. Foster1 
 Sales of high purity helium (minimum 99.995% purity) in the United States
by the Bureau of Mines and private industry reached 811 million cubic feet
in 1978, and were estimated at 817 million cubic feet in 1979.2 High purity
helium exports, all by private producers, increased to 190 million cubic
feet in 1978, and an estimated 245 million cubic feet in 1979. The Bureau
of Mines f.o.b. plant price for high purity helium remained at $35 per thousand
cubic feet, unchanged since 1961. High purity helium sold by private producers
averaged approximately $22.50 per thousand cubic feet. 
 Legislation and Government Programs.—A Congressionally ordered
inter-
agency helium study was completed in February 1978. The report concluded
that the demand for helium is likely to increase, and the long-term rate
of growth will be greatly affected by energy-related technologies. The study
deemed unsound the purchase of helium for storage by the Federal Government
in the short term, but recommended that policies be implemented to promote
economic utilization and avoid waste, and stated that the private sector
should be encouraged to extract helium from natural gas to eliminate venting
helium into the atmosphere. Areas identified for further study were examined
in a supplementary report issued in August 1978. 
DOMESTIC PRODUCTION 
 Nine plants with the capacity to extract helium were operational in 1979.
Seven of the plants were owned by private industry and the other two were
owned by the U.S. Government and operated by the Bureau of Mines. Six extraction
plants were located in Kansas, two in Texas, and one in Oklahoma. 
 Union Carbide Corp. began operating the world's largest helium purification
and liquefaction plant at Bushton, Kans., in 1979. The $7 million facility
has the capacity to liquefy 300 million cubic feet of high purity helium
per year. Northern Helex Co. is providing crude helium to the plant under
a long-term contract.3 
 Cities Service Helex, Inc., completed an expansion program in 1979, which
has increased production capacity of high purity helium by 35% at its Ulysses,
Kans., plant.~ Western Helium Co. closed its high purity helium plant at
Shiprock, N. Mex., in October 1978. 
 The Bureau of Mines awarded a contract in July 1979 for a pressure swing
adsorption 
helium purification unit. This noncryogenic system has a capacity of 1 million
cubic feet per day, and will be installed at the Exell, Tex., plant. High
purity helium production was resumed at the Exell, Tex., plant in June 1978
to meet increased demand for helium sales and redeliveries. Installation
of another helium liquefier was completed at the Bureau's Amarillo, Tex.,
helium plant, raising capacity to about 100 liters per hour. The unit was
purchased in 1977 from Kerr-McGee Corp.'s closed Navajo, Ariz., plant. 
 Nondepleting helium reserves contained in natural gas of low fuel value,
unusual composition, or poor location have become more attractive to natural
gas producers as the price of natural gas has increased. In 1978, Mobil Oil
Co. began drilling operations for potential gas production at the Tip Top
field in Wyoming, the largest of the Government-owned nondepleting helium
reserves. Should production capability be proven, Northwest Pipeline Corp.
will purchase and upgrade the gas. Both companies 
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