'It’s in everything you can think of': High hopes for Sask. helium production as demand grows
SASKATOON -- Interest in helium production in Saskatchewan is on the rise as uses for the resource continue to grow, according to a local company.
“It’s growing because it’s used principally in areas that are growing – healthcare, high tech manufacturing,” said Andrew Davidson, president and CEO of Royal Helium. “It’s in everything you can think of from smart phones, LED screens, fibre optics, welding, MRI machines.”
Saskatchewan has been a major exporter of the gas since the 1960s, according to Melinda Yurkowski, a geologist with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey.
“When the Space Age was heating up back in the 60s and 70s, there was a very high demand for it, and that’s when we first started producing helium in Saskatchewan.”
The price of helium has spiked over the last few years due to decreasing supply and increasing demand. This comes after the U.S. government decided to sell off its strategic reserves five years ago, limiting the amount of helium available in North America.
Davidson said this has led to renewed interest in helium production, specifically in Saskatchewan.
His company, Royal Helium, began operations in the province in 2017. It has 400,000 acres of land and is the second largest holder of helium permits and leases in North America.
“One of the problems with helium is that it’s such a small molecule, it escapes very, very easily. And so, whereas it’s present in a lot of places, it’s not present in economic quantities because it’s so light, it moves up and escapes into the atmosphere,” he said.
“Saskatchewan has the formation down at depth which can trap it. It’s a shale formation that holds it, so we’re one of the few places in the world that holds it in economic quantity.”
Davidson said while helium appears to be plentiful in the province, the exact amount is unknown and the gas can be hard to locate.
Still, he has high hopes for the expansion of the helium industry in Saskatchewan.