January 15, 2008

From Phil Kornbluth:

Re: Shrinking helium reserves may threaten more than kids’ play (Jan. 5): I currently am responsible for managing the worldwide helium business for Taiyo Nippon Sanso (TNS), the leading Japanese industrial gases company. Before joining TNS, I managed the global helium business for The BOC Group, plc for many years. So I am somewhat knowledgeable on the subject of helium supply. The entire premise of the article is flawed. While there is currently a worldwide shortage of helium, and a tight helium market can be expected to continue through 2009 or 2010, there is absolutely not a shortage of helium molecules in the world. The statement that the world’s supply of helium will run out by 2015 is ridiculous. A more accurate portrayal of the facts is as follows:

4There are huge reserves of helium in the world that can still be exploited. Huge reserves are located in places like the Tip Top Filed in Wyoming, the North Field of Qatar, the South Pars Filed in Iran and various gas fields in Eastern Siberia. So why is there a helium shortage? The current shortage was triggered by the U.S.Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) restrictions on the quantity of crude helium feedgas that the BLM will allow helium refiners to “redeliver” from the BLM’s crude helium pipeline, thus reducing the capacity of six helium liquefaction plants that together account for nearly 2/3 of global capacity. In addition, production from new plants in Algeria and Qatar was delayed and ramped up to full production more slowly than had been anticipated. Throw in a few maintenance outages and we ended up with a real messy situation. So why an ongoing shortage? It is important to remember that helium is produced as a by product of natural gas processing, including LNG production. The investments required to develop natural gas fields, pipeline systems and gas processing or LNG facilities is many times greater than the investment required for helium extraction, purification and liquefaction. So even though the helium reserves are present in very large quantities, the helium producers can not produce the helium until such time as the natural gas fields in which helium is present are commercialized. So even though there is a helium shortage, the helium industry can’t build new plants until the after the energy investments have been made. There are currently a number of energy/helium projects on the horizon and by 2011, the worldwide supply of helium should be at least ample.

4Speaking to the specific comment that the world’s helium supply will run out by 2015; I believe that this was an out of context reference to the fact that the BLM will sell off most of the US government’s strategic helium reserve by 2015. Sale of the helium stockpile was mandated by the Helium Privatization Act of 1996 and is proceeding in accordance with the legislation. Crude helium from the stockpile has been very useful in enabling the helium refiners connected to the BLM pipeline to maintain their production capacity as the Hugoton Field, which is/was the source of crude helium for both the strategic stockpile and current extraction in the mid-continent area depletes. In essence, the strategic stockpile has provided a bridge until the various new projects begin production in 2011. A correct statement would be that the US government will sell off most of its strategic stockpile by 2015.

Back to your article - it seems to me that the U.S.scientific community has launched some sort of PR campaign due to their unhappiness with rising prices for helium which have resulted from the shortage and misguided fears that the world is running out of helium, jeopardizing their scientific work.

My suggestion is that you do a better job of fact checking before printing this material as it serves to spread misinformation diminishes the credibility of your publication.

Phil Kornbluth
Executive Vice President - Global Helium
Matheson Tri-Gas Inc.
150 Allen Road - Suite 302
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920

(Editors’ note: The scientists quoted in the article said the world’s largest helium reserve would be depleted by 2015, not all helium reserves. In general, though, we cannot vouch for any statements made by scientists in our stories; all we can vouch for is that they are in fact scientists!)


Anonymous Helium_Guy said...

I enjoyed your article, especially about debunking the myth that the world is running out of helium, as that is just not true. Thank you for the read, I will be back to read more!

May 09, 2008 10:51 AM  

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