The Rise and Fall of the Texas Helium Reserve

Much of the nation’s helium supply comes from Amarillo.

By Travis Putnam HillDecember 26, 2016 9:30 am

This story originally aired on June 30, 2016.

The recent discovery of a huge helium field in Tanzania was big news – dubbed a “game changer” – because current supplies of the gas are expected to run out in the next 20 years.

But it will be years before this gas can be tapped from underground. Until then, much of the world’s helium will come for the same place it has for the last half century: the U.S. government’s underground reserve in the Texas Panhandle.

Sam Burton, assistant field manager of helium operations at the Federal Helium Program in Amarillo, says the gas isn’t just for party balloons – it’s also used in the tech industry.

“It’s pretty much in everything that’s high-tech or advanced – advanced science applications, helium’s in there somewhere,” Burton says, “whether it’s microchip manufacture for computers, cell phones, fiber optics for communications.”

A recent discovery in Tanzania is good news, Burton says, because our helium field won’t be around forever.

“Our reserve is actually entering into the last third of its production capability,” Burton says. “When that’s gone, its little bit of a different system. We would probably see rises and falls in the helium price.”

Post by Alexandra Hart.