Helium Boom Continues in Saskatchewan
Helium, the gas most of us associate with toy balloons and squeaky voices, has in recent years become big business.
In addition to its novelty uses, the gas is an essential component for medical scanners, space vehicles, electronics and fibre optics.
Saskatchewan is blessed with helium resources, but they were not economic to develop when the gas was plentiful and cheap.
The world is now faced with a helium shortage that has driven prices sky-high and led a veritable ‘gold rush’ to develop the resource.
A number of in- and out-of-province firms are exploring or have produced helium in the province, including North American Helium, Royal Helium, Weil Group, Canadian Helium and the City of Medicine Hat.
According to Melinda Yurkowski, P.Geo., assistant chief geologist, petroleum geology, with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, 16 new helium wells have recently been drilled in the province, including 13 since 2014. As well, Yurkowski notes that as of the end of December, 2018, 203 permits and leases for the resource have been issued in the province.
“The world price for helium has been volatile but remains high. The biggest sources for the gas come from major liquified natural gas (LNG) producers, like Qatar, who draw off the helium as a byproduct. Other LNG producers like Russia either have or are expected to get in on the act,” Yurkowski says.
Even so, Saskatchewan helium producers have a number of advantages.
“The concentration of Saskatchewan helium is much higher than that drawn from LNG so it’s a more efficient source. As well, some of the countries that produce a lot of LNG suffer from political instability which makes Saskatchewan a more attractive place to do business.”
According to Yurkowski, the number of geologists working in the Saskatchewan helium industry is limited but expected to grow.
“The industry is still in its infancy, so it would be hard to say what the job potential will be. As in any booming resource sector, the sky is the limit. It would be impossible to make a firm prediction.”