FIGURE 2.2 Major helium-bearing natural gas fields in the United States (courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management).

refine it as needed. Any crude helium in excess of current market demand will thus remain in the Cliffside facility and become part of the company's private stockpile. The amount of helium produced from the Hugoton-Panhandle complex would certainly be less if the Cliffside facility were not available.

The existence of the Federal Helium Reserve itself (i.e., the third element) would appear to have little effect on industry as long as it is held in storage. Sale of federal crude helium assumes that the customers who buy it can purify and market the product (unless, of course, these customers choose to simply leave their purchases underground at Cliffside). The only reason for nonproducing customers to buy from the reserve would be for speculation, holding onto it and waiting for the time when the Hugoton-Panhandle field's helium was exhausted. The crude helium in the Bush Dome reservoir could then be sold—at a profit—to the refiners along the pipeline to extend their production lifetime. However, the likelihood of this occurring is completely dependent on the price at which the crude helium can be bought initially.

The information presented in Table 2.1 and Figure 2.2 suggests that significant private helium production is coming from the second element, which is gas fields that do not enjoy access to the helium pipeline. The Rocky Mountain producers (the most important one by far is ExxonMobil) could continue to operate even if Hugoton production was to decline.

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