Unique Helium Resources Are Wasting:

A New Conservation Policy Is Needed

EMD-78-98: Published: Mar 7, 1979. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 1979.

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In response to a growing Government helium demand, the Helium Act of 1960 established a Federal helium conservation program that authorized the Secretary of the Interior to purchase helium from private producers for Federal agency consumption and conservation for future Government use. Approximately 37 billion cubic feet of helium have been stored under this program. The Federal helium conservation program is now at a virtual standstill, however, and private storage has been minimal. The helium purchase program ended in 1973 when the Secretary of the Interior determined that enough helium had been purchased to meet foreseeable Government needs and terminated helium purchase contracts with private producers. The one operating Federal helium plant supplies Government agencies, and only a small Federal production surplus goes into storage. Due to economic, tax, and legal problems that hamper incentives for private storage, only a small amount of helium has been stored over the years by the private sector.

As natural gas resources in the United States are produced for fuel, the commingled helium is lost unless extracted or conserved. Each year about 13 billion cubic feet of helium escape into the atmosphere. It is difficult to estimate how long natural gas will continue to be produced. A number of studies, including a 1978 Interagency Helium Study, concluded that substantial domestic helium resources (over 350 billion cubic feet) would remain in natural gas by 2030. Nevertheless, helium demands are expected to rise steadily through the year 2000 and total demand may rise sharply thereafter. Nuclear fusion reactors, superconducting transmission lines, and magnetic energy storage devices could require up to 5 billion cubic feet of helium per year by 2030.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should legislate a new helium policy. To accomplish helium conservation for national needs, the legislation should authorize: (1) actions to conserve helium in present nondepleting resources; (2) actions to encourage conservation from private facilities; and (3) further recovery of helium from gasfields.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: Immediate attention needs to be given by the Secretary of the Interior to determine the most efficient means to conserve the helium in the Tip Top Gasfield in Wyoming, which is the largest nondepleting helium reserve gasfield, with most of its reserves lying under Federal lands. The Secretary of the Interior should include in new Federal leases a clause placing responsibility for extracting helium, when it exists in significant amounts, with the developer or lessee.

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