Helium exploration and development

Helium is currently sourced almost exclusively as a byproduct of natural gas production. It is suggested that as the energy sector diversifies, a byproduct of reduced natural gas production would be a significant downturn in helium production, resulting in undersupply.

In the future, finding quality commercially viable quantities will become more challenging. Therefore the need to identify economic helium resources and, as a result, helium exploration is growing.

At RPS, we have extensive geological and commercial knowledge to support our clients in conducting helium exploration and development.

Why is helium important? Hint, it's more than balloons!

Helium is a scarce non-renewable resource and plays a vital role across several industries, including medicine, science and construction. For example, it is used in liquid form in MRI scanners, as a coolant for rocket engines, treating respiratory ailments like asthma and emphysema, and helping deep-sea divers breathe safely.

Helium is used in MRI machines

It is also used to manufacture fibre-optic cables and produce computer chips used in cell phones and computers.

An extremely low melting point, density and solubility combined with high thermal conductivity make helium an essential component across many industries.

Helium is used to manufacture computer chips

Where is helium found?

Despite being the second most common element in the universe, helium is relatively scarce on earth. When helium is present at the earth's surface, unconfined, it immediately begins rising until it escapes the planet. Consequently, we must look for where it might be 'trapped' before it can escape, not dissimilar to what we routinely look for in the oil and gas industry.

Helium is typically produced as a minor constituent of natural gas, with the bulk of present-day production from North America and the Middle East. It coexists with natural gas due to the same migration and trapping processes that create "gas" accumulations in the subsurface. Helium is commonly sourced from the decay of certain minerals and elements (principally uranium and thorium) found in igneous intrusions and/or ancient basement but also in areas of relatively concentrated (pre-)historic meteoric bombardment. Helium is so buoyant and has such a small atomic radius that the only sedimentary cap-rocks capable of trapping helium are halite and anhydrite. The seismic project management team at RPS are experts in locating and modelling these rocks. Some more kerogenic shales can sometimes also serve as a less effective, perhaps shorter term, barrier

In natural gas reservoirs, helium concentrations above 0.3% are considered economically viable. However, gas reservoirs with over 10% helium concentration do exist. Extracting helium, in addition to natural gas, can become an important revenue source for resource companies, especially as demand increases and supply shrinks. Helium prices are at almost record highs and are only likely to increase. This can make relatively low concentrations of helium almost, if not more, valuable than the natural gas revenue, depending on proximity to market and power requirements.

Supporting clients in the search and development of helium resources in a low-carbon environment

At RPS, we have decades of expertise in hydrocarbon exploration, portfolio evaluation and field development. RPS has recently been able to leverage this expertise, alongside our extensive geoscience knowledge of North America and Africa, to support clients in the search and development of helium resources in these continents.

Our work with Royal Helium in Canada is an example of where we have supported the discovery of high helium content reservoirs.

Royal Helium in Saskatchewan, Canada

In 2019 RPS completed a detailed geophysical study, combining aeromagnetic data, well data and seismic to support Royal Helium's exploration activities.

Our geophysicists interpreted prospective horizons and recommended drilling locations for Royal Helium, resulting in discovering helium resources related to Precambrian basement structuring.

Using the geological model developed by RPS, Royal Helium drilled additional wells on a new target and encountered some of the highest helium concentrations on record in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Helium discover in Saskatchewan

Questions about helium exploration and development? Contact us

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Roger Edgecombe

Operations Director – Technical and Advisory (Canada) T: +1 403 265 7226 Email
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Calgary | Canada
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Jim Bradly

Operations Director Technical, Training and Advisory – EAME T: +44 (0) 20 7280 3400 Email
London - New Bridge Street | UK

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