Helium Find Allays Concerns of Dwindling Global Supply
The discovery one of the world’s biggest helium gas fields in the Tanzanian Rift Valley safeguards the future of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners.
Researchers from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), and Durham University (United Kingdom; Durham), together with the Helium One (Bergen, Norway) exploration company applied methodologies used in oil exploration to search for helium. The exploration team found that volcanic activity can provide the intense heat necessary to release the gas from ancient, helium-bearing rocks.
By combining their understanding of helium geochemistry with seismic images of gas trapping structures, a probable resource of 54 Billion Cubic Feet (BCf) resides in just one part of the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley, where volcanoes have already released the helium, now trapped in shallower gas fields. According to the researchers, the amount of helium discovered is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners. The study was presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference, held during June 2016 in Yokohama (Japan).
“If gas traps are located too close to a given volcano, they run the risk of helium being heavily diluted by volcanic gases such as carbon dioxide, just as we see in thermal springs from the region,” said study presenter Diveena Danabalan, a Durham University PhD student. “We are now working to identify the ‘Goldilocks-zone’ between the ancient crust and the modern volcanoes where the balance between helium release and volcanic dilution is just right.”
“To put this discovery into perspective, global consumption of helium is about 8 BCf per year and the United States Federal Helium Reserve, which is the world’s largest supplier, has a current reserve of just 24.2 BCf,” said senior author Professor Chris Ballentine, PhD, of the department of earth sciences at the University of Oxford. “Total known reserves in the USA are around 153 BCf. This is a game changer for the future security of society’s helium needs, and similar finds in the future may not be far away.”
While developing the technique in 2015, members of the same research group postulated significant helium resources in the Rocky Mountains in the United States.
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