One additional key factor of looming impact to helium supply is legislation currently being considered by the United States (U.S.) Congress related to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) helium reservoir, which currently supplies 30% of the global helium demand. "U.S. legislators undoubtedly need to pass legislation soon to extend the BLM operations and preserve the availability of this important source of supply. Unless, this legislation passes and BLM has renewed authority to continue to operate the federal reservoir, all of the helium that remains in the reserve would be inaccessible. The impact on the U.S. and the world in terms of helium availability would be chaotic. Renewed or new legislation granting the BLM the authority it needs to continue to supply helium would bridge the time period necessary for new announced natural gas and helium production plants to come onstream," Nelson said.
The new sources of helium to come onstream Nelson was referring to include: a new natural gas facility to supply a new Wyoming helium plant, in which Air Products has an ownership interest; an LNG and helium project in Qatar; and additional LNG and helium production expected in Algeria. All these projects are targeted to be onstream in 2013. "Only after these three new helium sources are operational and existing plants are again running at normal rates will the global helium supply begin to fully stabilize. This is why the U.S. legislation to continue BLM supply is so critical to so many industries," Nelson said.
Nelson also touched on steps that end-users and manufacturers must take to help conserve helium at the point of use, and encouraged them to make the investments necessary to recover and recycle helium where practical.
"Provided we do all these things, and they are all attainable, we should have more than sufficient quantities of helium available for end-users and manufacturers for years to come," Nelson concluded.