Last month it was announced that a large helium reserve had been found in the African country of Tanzania. Long time readers of the blog may recall that helium management used to be a frequent topic, as the U.S. had legislated itself into a manufactured shortage of the gas. Helium is a critical element for its ability as a coolant, and the instability in prices and supply over the past several years have prompted some recycling and increased production.
The Tanzania fields were discovered through a new technique that may prove fruitful for further exploration. Extraction might start as early as 2017, but the volcanoes and disputes over land leases may complicate matters.
No word yet on how the Tanzanian find may influence the operation of the U.S. helium reserve, which is currently slated to close in 2021. It remains unclear, even with the dramatic rise in prices over the last 15 years, whether the market for helium has priced the gas at a value comparable to its scarcity. How this new field is developed, and whether or not helium exploration expands, can help answer that question.