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)
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 423
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