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Selling the Nation’s Helium Reserve
therefore, the cost effectiveness of extracting it. This section discusses current and projected sources of helium, both in the United States and elsewhere.
Every year the BLM, acting on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), summarizes global helium resources. Table 4.1 lists estimates for helium reserves and the helium reserve base in 2008. “Reserves” are resources that “could be economically extracted or produced at the time of determination, [but] need not signify that extraction facilities are in place and operative.”1
For helium resources abroad, the “reserve base” is the “in-place demonstrated resource … [that has a] reasonable potential for becoming economically available within planning horizons beyond those that assume proven technology and current economics [and] includes those resources that are currently economic (reserves), marginally economic (marginal reserves), and some of those that are currently subeconomic (subeconomic reserves).”2 For the United States, the reserve base reported in Table 4.1 includes measured (153.2 Bcf) and probable (192.2 Bcf) helium reserves but specifically excludes the possible (213.8 Bcf) and speculative reserves (184.4 Bcf) published in the 2009 USGS report on helium (USGS, 2009). It is important to note that all listed reserves and reserve bases are estimates and with few exceptions have not been certified by any accrediting institution.
For the world, the total estimated reserves of 638 Bcf divided by the current global helium refining rate of approximately 6.2 Bcf per year3 indicates reserves should last about 100 years. However, if consumption continues to grow at recent rates (4 percent per year), these reserves fall to a less comfortable 40 years. Furthermore, it is important to note that this estimate is valid only if the entire amount of natural gas produced from each reservoir is processed for helium. An improved assessment of the life of a country’s reserves would require adjusting for the amount of helium that is bypassing helium-processing plants for that country—that is, gas that is being vented to the atmosphere never to be recovered. To account for such losses would require obtaining, for each field with commercially available helium, information about the amount of natural gas produced from that field over a given period and the helium concentrations in that gas and then comparing the result to the amount of helium actually produced. The ratio of helium extracted to the amount of helium withdrawn, extrapolated to the amount of reserves estimated for the field, would provide an effective reserve for that field. For almost all coun-