A “Perfect” Deposit Of Helium Has Been Found Bubbling Below Minnesota

Crack out the celebratory balloons and get those MRI machines clanking: A giant reserve of helium has been found hundreds of meters below Earth at a drill site in Minnesota, US. 

The load of helium was found in the early hours of February 28 by Pulsar Helium. While drilling their exploratory boring well, they discovered concentrations of 12.4 percent helium at a depth between 533 to 671 meters (1,750 to 2,200 feet).

“There was a lot of screaming, a lot of hugging and high fives. It’s nice to know the efforts all worked out and we pulled it off,” Thomas Abraham-James, the president and CEO of the company, told CBS News.

“12.4 percent is just a dream. It’s perfect,” he added.

Helium makes up about 0.0005 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, but it is most commonly sourced from natural gas deposits in the ground, formed as a result of the radioactive decay of heavy elements deep within Earth.

As a gas, it’s famed for its “lighter than air” properties that allow balloons to float, but it isn’t just used to inflate party balloons. Helium has an array of important medical, scientific, and engineering uses, including the manufacturing of semiconductors, high-energy particle colliders, and nuclear reactors. 

Its most useful property is its ability to stay cool – it has the lowest boiling point of any element at -268.9°C (-452°F) – making it an ideal chemical to chill materials that become very heated, such as superconducting magnets in MRI machines. Indeed, almost a third of all global helium is used in MRI machines, making it an invaluable resource for the medical community. 

Globally, the US and Qatar are leading the way with helium production, with very few other countries coming close in output. However, recent years have seen several helium supply shortages. When chronic shortfalls strike, it can put a considerable strain on several different services, especially medical professionals working with MRI machines. 

Unless we discover significant new reserves – or develop a way to reliably manufacture it – the world is likely to run out of helium within the next century or two. 

This latest discovery in Minnesota isn’t set to enter the global supply chain just yet. Now there’s good reason to suspect a decent reserve exists here, an independent third party will investigate the findings, and a feasibility study will be used to see if it could support a full-scale helium extraction plant.

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