In 1996, legislation was enacted that redefined the Bureau of Land Management’s role in the production, storage, and sale of crude helium. Worldwide demand for helium has increased, and anticipated production from countries that export liquefied natural gas (LNG) has thus far failed to impact the increasingly tight market for helium (C&EN, Oct. 8, 2007, page 31).
Starting in 2006, helium became more expensive and less available to U.S. consumers. That situation continues worldwide into 2008. Part of the problem may lie in the escalating price for natural gas. Historically, the primary source for crude helium production has been gas fields in southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and the Texas panhandle. Those gas fields now are described as 60% depleted. The major gas producers in that area (British Petroleum, XTO Energy, and Osborn Heirs) find it economically advantageous to avoid the cost of recovering helium from their production stream.
Don Leslie Lewis