SASKATCHEWAN (CBSMiami) – New Year’s Eve is almost here and party planners are busy filling thousands of balloons with helium.
But as we head into 2017, could that gas we take for granted soon be totally gone? Not if scientists strike helium gold in Canada!
At a geology lab in Saskatchewan, pieces of the earth drilled about 60 years ago are getting a second look.
Geologists are on the hunt for helium.
One has mapped out where exploration companies could soon find it – perhaps in trapped rock that’s about 1.8 billion years old.
“Some of the percentages of helium are actually world class,” said geologist Melinda Yurkowski.
She isn’t the only one interested in these old core samples.
Over the past year, there’s been a flurry of requests for helium exploration permits in Saskatchewan.
“It’s actually quite busy right now. We’ve got a number of companies that are doing some exploration and have actually developed some wells in the southwestern portion of the province,” she said.
Why the helium rush?
As any party supply store owner will tell you, it’s pretty simple – the price is up.
“It’s gone up a hundred percent since 2013-14,” said Erwin Taylor, president of Gayle’s Wholesale.
The helium market is volatile these days, largely because the U.S. government has decided to sell off its stockpile of the gas. So producers are looking north to fill the gap.
One well was drilled decades ago by an exploration company looking for natural gas, but helium turned up instead.
It’s now being tapped by an American company, which started up a processing plant earlier this year.
One man, who used to work for an oil and gas company, spends his day fielding jokes about whether he has to make sure the equipment at the helium plant doesn’t float away.
“We get a lot of questions about helium in general, because as far as people know it’s basically for balloons. A lot of people don’t understand what else it’s used for…what it can be used for.”
Of course, helium isn’t just good for entertaining. It gives airships a lift. And helps deep sea divers breathe safely. It’s also used as a coolant in rocket engines, nuclear plants and MRI scanners.
Analysts expect demand for helium to grow.
In Saskatchewan, companies are counting on it as the province tries to position itself as a global supplier of helium.
The United States built up a federal reserve in the 60s when helium was considered a strategic military resource. But now it wants out of the business by 2021.