There have been a number of press articles saying the world is running out of helium recently. These articles all seem to be based on comments from a few so called experts. There are a multitude of companies who would benefit from a rise in the value of helium and top of my list would be the holders of stocks and shares in Central Petroleum, who have a new Australian gas field. There is a surprising coincidence in the helium running out reports and announcements of the helium content of the new Australian gas fields. Anybody can find out in about 5 minutes of research that the idea of the world running out of helium is nonsense and bears no relation whatsoever to the facts . The fact of the matter is revealed by the readily obtainable authoritative Mineral Commodity Summary for Helium for 2010, prepared by the US Geological Survey.
For some reason the latest Commodity Survey omits a lot of reserve estimates which used to be tabulated for foreign lands. Russia and Algeria both have huge sources of helium not in full production. However, the old surveys are still on line, so you can still judge for yourself. For example, the 2002 survey:
"Helium resources of the world exclusive of the United States were estimated to be about 15 billion cubic meters."This is what it calls the reserve base, which simply means the figures have not yet been proven but are informed estimates. The latest information on new helium reserves that are only just being estimated for Australia is in the following article:
The issue here is not necessarily that nothing is wrong with the way helium is being handled currently, NASA in particular who use helium as a leak testing and purging gas could re cycle most of their helium and most specialist welding applications can use Argon. The issue is simply the same issue which is present in every one of the "running out of X" scenarios, namely that whatever is settled should be based on informed opinion, not hasty and overly micro-focused conclusions based on inaccurate data or distorted by commercial gas exploration interests.
Most helium is obtained as a byproduct from the liquefaction of natural gas and it will only run out when natural gas runs out, probably about 300 plus years time and even then the US will still have helium reserves available.
World largest helium plant in Qatar: http://www.gasworld.com/news.php?a=4644%3Br%3D8%3Bl%3D1 Qatar Liquified Gas Company issued a press release on helium production that is now increasing some time ago: Qatar will become one of the world's leading helium producers by 2010, with the launch of a $115m helium joint venture plant. It will be located at the Ras Laffan Industrial City, with Qatargas, RasGas and RasGas II supplying the helium. The contract for the design and construction of the plant was awarded to the French company Air Liquide Engineering SA on 21st May, 2003. The Minister of Energy and Chairman of Qatargas, HE Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah signed on behalf of Qatargas and Dr. Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, Vice Chairman on behalf of RasGas. The plant owners have also concluded two separate long-term agreements with BOC Group Inc. and Air Liquide America LP for the installation of facilities required to extract helium from natural gas, purify and liquefy it for export. The plant will be constructed over the next two years and have an annual production of 650 million standard cubic feet of helium. The first helium sale is expected in July 2005. "This is just phase I. We hope to double production as we plan to be the world's top helium producer", said HE Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah. Currently, only a few countries produce helium including the US, Algeria and Australia. The US alone produces and consumes 60% of the world market share of helium. There are only 12 helium plants in the world today. One plant is currently under construction in Algeria and Ras Laffan will become the world's 14th helium plant.
Helium is colourless, odourless, non-reactive, safer and lighter than air. It is require for a number of commercial and industrial applications. It is the second most abundant element in the universe, but rarely found in concentrations that justify economic extraction. Due to its marginal presence in natural gas, extracting it for liquefaction is complicated, which makes it an expensive product. However, Qatargas' North Field, with its massive natural gas reserves, makes extraction economically viable. The key markets for Qatari helium on completion of the project include the Middle East and Asia. It is estimated that Qatar will account for about 15% of the world's helium market.
INTERNATIONAL HELIUM RESERVES 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. Extract source: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12844&page=77
Chemical element, chemical symbol He, atomic number 2. A noble gas, it is colourless, odourless, tasteless, completely unreactive, and nontoxic. First found by spectroscopy of the Sun's atmosphere in 1868, it is the second most abundant and second-lightest element in the universe (after hydrogen). Helium makes up a tiny proportion of the atmosphere but as much as 7% of natural gas. It is the product of radioactive decay (see radioactivity) and is used in helium dating. It is used as an inert gas in welding, rocket propulsion, balloon flight, hyperbaric chambers, deep-sea diving (see nitrogen narcosis), gas chromatography, luminous signs, and cryogenics. Liquid helium, which exists only below -452 °F (-268.9 °C, about 4° C above absolute zero), is a "quantum fluid" (see fluid mechanics; quantum mechanics), with unique properties, including superfluidity, superconductivity, and near-zero viscosity.