A drilling company hopes to capture helium, a valuable gas that plays a key role in scientific research, from a Utah gas field under a project approved last week by the Bureau of Land Management.
Helium occurs in minute quantities in most natural gas wells, but Flatirons Resources believes the gas under Harley Dome contains unusually high concentrations of helium and lower concentrations of methane and other flammable gases.
Federal land managers said the Denver-based company’s exploratory project carries "no significant impact," although they have imposed seasonal drilling restrictions to protect pronghorn and other migratory wildlife, according to an Environmental Assessment released Friday.
Although commercial helium is recovered from many Utah natural gas wells, BLM officials believe the Harley Dome well could be the state’s only one devoted primarily to the light inert gas, famous for party balloons and making people speak with high-pitched voices. It is nontoxic, does not combust, and remains fluid at super-cooled temperatures, making it indispensable for high-tech industries.
Because of helium shortages, the gas has become increasingly valuable, according to Lisa Bryant, acting field manager for BLM’s Moab office. Last year, it was selling for more than $6 per cubic meter in the face of declining U.S. production.
Harley Dome is just north of Interstate 70, a few miles west of the Colorado state line. The company expect to sink a 1,100-foot exploratory well this fall. If helium is found in sufficient concentrations, the well’s output will be sent through a 1.4-mile pipeline to a separation plant on private land. The helium would be compressed for truck transport, while the methane would be flared.
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