--> --> A Renewed Focus on Utah’s Helium Potential

AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting

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A Renewed Focus on Utah’s Helium Potential


Demand for helium is growing and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is nearing completion of a prolonged exit from its dominant position in the industry. This transition creates opportunity for focused exploration of helium. As demand for the inert gas increases, exploration companies have begun to explore helium-rich gas streams outside of proven natural gas production areas. A concentration of helium found in the gas stream of 0.3% v/v or more is considered a potential helium source. Concentrations over 7.0% helium are rare yet have been discovered and documented in the gas stream of wells drilled in east-central Utah. Helium accumulates as the radioactive decay product of uranium and thorium. Joints in formations at depth may provide pathways for helium microseepage to the surface. Under optimal circumstances, the buoyant decay products of igneous or crystalline basement rocks can travel up fractures and faults to porous reservoirs sealed by impermeable salt layers or thick shale deposits. In eastern and southeastern Utah, helium is often found in reservoirs below the Paradox Formation salt or below the thick Mancos Shale. While many helium-prospective regions exist, very few natural gas fields contain enough to justify a helium recovery process. Helium shows in Utah range from trace amounts up to 7.5%, with the highest concentrations on the crest of the Harley Dome structure, east-central Utah, from the Entrada Sandstone reservoir at a depth of 965 feet. Although many resources have been documented since the early twentieth century, recent renewed interest of several helium exploration companies has brought attention back to the helium potential of Utah. Such attention has motivated the compilation of a verifiable database of economic helium analyses from 12 helium-prospective fields, 89 wells and one gas plant. With several high-percentage helium plays and natural gas wells with associated helium concentrations at or above the 0.3% economic threshold, Utah deserves the consideration of those interested in exploring for and producing helium.