MAR 04, 2024 12:29 PM PST

A Massive Deposit of Helium is Found in North America

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Only a few years ago, there were concerns that another medical crisis could be brewing in the form of a helium shortage. The US federal government has also been planning to sell its helium reserves, and concern was growing about the reliability of the supply, which is important to a lot more than parties. Only about three percent of the world's helium supply goes to balloons and blimps. Liquid helium is a crucial and safe coolant; it helps maintain proper temperature in nuclear reactors and is used in X-ray crystallography. Most helium is used in a variety of technologies, like rockets, semiconductors, welding, and critically, in MRI machines. No patient wants to hear that they cannot get a diagnosis for their health issue because there is no helium for the MRI, and these images help reveal many different medical conditions.

MRI scans / Image credit: Pixabay

In recent years, most helium has been exported by Russia, Qatar, and Tanzania. But in 2011, a crew working for a company called Duluth Metals found helium in a part of Minnesota's Iron Range while they were searching for platinum-palladium metals.

Engineers and scientists converged on the site in Minnesota's St. Louis County, and in early February, they began to drill. A massive reserve was discovered as the drill reached a depth of about 2,200 feet below the surface, and a huge concentration of helium gas was identified; the sample that was taken had an extremely high concentration of 12.4 percent.

"There was a lot of screaming, a lot of hugging, and high fives. It's nice to know the efforts all worked out and we pulled it off," said Thomas Abraham-James, the CEO of Pulsar Helium. He noted that this concentration is around 30 times higher than the so-called industry standard, and even more than what had been forecast. Companies tend to pursue helium concentrations that measure over 0.3 percent. Abraham-James said that, “12.4 percent is just a dream.” He has been searching the world for helium reserves, and added, “It’s perfect.”

Now the company has to analyze the area to determine whether it's feasible to establish a a full-service mine there, a process that may take as long as one year.

The drilling had originally been planned to penetrate to a depth of 2,250 feet, but because of unusually warm temperatures leading to weight restrictions, the process had to stop earlier than intended.

Sources: CBS News, Independent Journal Review, Duluth News Tribune

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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