Saskatchewan is now officially home to the largest helium purification facility in Canada.
Located near Battle Creek in the province's southwest, the new $32 million facility, owned and operated by North American Helium Inc. (NAH), is expected to produce more than 50 million cubic feet per year of purified helium for commercial sale. For context, that would be enough to fill approximately 400,000 party balloons a day.
Helium is a highly desirable commodity used in medical research, semiconductor manufacturing, space exploration, fibre optics, and advancements in nuclear power generation.
"This facility will create and support local jobs, enable the province to scale up helium production, and grow export capacity," Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre said. "It will also further diversify our natural resource sector and position Saskatchewan as a leading supplier of a critical element that the world needs."
Helium is included on both the Canadian and American lists of critical minerals, considered necessary for the modern economy, emerging technologies or which face supply chain risks. Prices for helium have risen by more than 160 per cent since 2017, as a result of increased global demand and shortage of supply. Canada currently has the fifth-largest helium resources in the world, with significant underground reserves in Saskatchewan.
"This project is another example of the resiliency of our economy and another step toward economic recovery and a return to growth," Cypress Hills MLA Doug Steele said. "Saskatchewan has the natural resources the world needs, and it is important we continue providing a competitive investment environment to attract projects such as this that will create jobs in our communities, grow our economy and build a strong Saskatchewan."
The NAH helium purification project was approved for the province's Oil and Gas Processing Investment Incentive (OGPII) program, which provides new or expanded gas processing and liquefaction facilities with a 15 per cent transferrable royalty credit, based on capital expenditures.
"We are very excited to start up our second helium plant in Saskatchewan ahead of schedule and anticipate running a significant helium exploration and development program into the future," NAH President and Chief Operating Officer Marlon McDougall said.
"This is an important milestone in the development of a new source of reliable green helium supply, and long-term sustainable helium production industry in Saskatchewan," NAH Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Snyder said. "Our company will continue working with our partners and relevant stakeholders to ensure that we can grow our nitrogen-based helium production as a replacement for declining legacy sources of hydrocarbon-linked helium supplies in the lower 48 states."
Saskatchewan is one of the few jurisdictions in the world that can support the drilling of dedicated helium wells, rather than as a byproduct of hydrocarbon production. This makes helium production significantly more environmentally friendly in Saskatchewan than in competing jurisdictions.
With the NAH facility, there are now nine active helium wells in the province and 24 in the drilling process. The Government of Saskatchewan expects the number of helium wells will eventually surpass 100.