that approximately 50 percent of that amount currently is being exported. So, if the exporting of helium were curtailed, then helium reserves in the United States would last almost 56 years at the present domestic rate of consumption of approximately 2.5 Bcf per year.

International

Algeria, Qatar, and Russia have reserve bases comparable to that of the United States. Qatar is unique in that essentially all of its natural gas is in the huge North Field, reported to have proven natural gas reserves of approximately 900 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) at the end of 2008 (U.S. Energy Information Administration-Qatar, 2009). The helium concentration in that field is 0.04 percent by volume, or 360 Bcf of helium. Algeria also has very large natural gas reserves but the helium concentrations are lower than those of Qatar.

Russia has the largest natural gas reserves in the world (U.S. EIA-Russia, 2009), and those reserves include some gas fields that have attractive helium concentrations, particularly in the Russian Far East. In fact, the helium contained in the Kovykta field alone could be as much as 180 Bcf.7 Although there are large volumes of helium in the natural gas reserves in Kovykta as well as other fields in the former Soviet Union, decisions affecting helium development, such as the location of pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing plants to satisfy domestic and external markets, are in various stages of planning and it is not known how much planning is being done to develop helium production facilities alongside the other gas handling and processing facilities.

Australia and Indonesia have natural gas reserves with threshold-mass concentrations of helium comparable to that of countries that already are major exporters of LNG. Australia has a helium plant under construction in Darwin and Indonesia is considering helium as an export product.

REFINED HELIUM: CURRENT CAPACITY AND PRODUCTION

Following from the discussion in the preceding section of possible sources of helium, this section turns to a discussion of the current and near-term-future capacity to separate that helium from the natural gas, refine it, and place it into the supply chain discussed in Chapter 2.

Table 4.3 presents helium capacity and actual production in 2008 for those countries with significant sources of helium and facilities for refining it. For purposes of this table, crude helium capacity (column labeled (a)) is the amount of

7

Based on private conversations with representatives of Russian Federation natural gas supply companies.



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