When most people think about helium, they think about party balloons. While helium does still serve those balloons well due to its low density, helium also has many other important uses in our society, from science and medical technology, to tech manufacturing and space exploration.
Helium is second only to hydrogen in terms of prevalence in the universe, however it is scarce on earth. Helium is formed during natural radioactive decay from elements such as uranium and thorium. Helium is completely unreactive, has the lowest melting point of any known element, and is a solid at -273 C, or just above absolute zero. Effectively, helium is never solid.
With demand for helium as strong as it has ever been, and by amassing nearly 5.5 million acres of land in Saskatchewan, Helium Evolution, based in Calgary, is hoping to unlock and unearth Saskatchewan’s potential to be a major helium player globally. With an experienced leadership team bringing decades of oil and gas experience to the table, Helium Evolution has the people and tools in place to enable growth and production at a sustainable rate.
Saskatchewan is home to large uranium reserves, and therefore is home to significant helium reserves as well. The Saskatchewan government has given the green light to more helium exploration and production, with aspirations of providing 10 percent of the world’s supply by 2030. Helium Evolution hopes to produce a significant portion of Canada’s helium exports.
BOE Report spoke with Greg Robb, President and CEO of Helium Evolution, and Ryan Tomlinson, CFO, to hear about the growth and evolution of Helium Evolution, and how they have positioned themselves to be a big player in the helium market.
“While this isn’t a brand-new space, things have changed – mainly price point and demand, as both have grown rapidly. As a result of changes in technology, this material is used for a lot of high-tech applications. Traditionally, it has been produced as a by-product of natural gas production, with about 95% of helium production being a by-product of natural gas,” Robb explained.
The biggest helium producer has historically been the United States, while Canada has only produced about 1% of the world’s helium, mainly owing to the low realized price for helium, which prevented many Saskatchewan reserves from being profitable to produce.
“Thirty years ago, we didn’t have cell phones. Fifty years ago, they put up a spacecraft a couple times a year. Now, they’re going up a couple times a week. These things require helium,” Robb added.
In ramping up for summer drilling season, Helium Evolution has been quietly preparing its equipment. “We are sitting on some very choice land, and we’re getting ready to drill in about six weeks – early June. We’ve assembled just under 5.5 million acres of land and we’re the largest landowner among any publicly listed helium companies in North America. We’ve been buying seismic, and now we’ve got drillable targets,” Robb commented.
In order to drill these days, first you need a rig. While Helium Evolution has a rig secured, you also need casing. Robb noted there’s a shortage of casing out there, so they bought casing ahead of time. They have casing ready for their first wells and a rig scheduled to take them through June to the end of August.
“We’re ready to go.” Helium Evolution wants to be on production no later than Q1 of 2023. Coupled with the engineering work they have been conducting, by the time they begin drilling in June, they anticipate meeting their target in roughly 10 months.
“Helium supply is limited and that’s what makes it special. We have the skill set in place to properly develop this resource, which is a big advantage for us at this time. We want to get into a cycle of exploration and development and what I’d like to do is have 150 mcf a day of helium by this time next year,” Robb said.
Prior to March 30, 2022, their first public trading day, Helium Evolution was a private company. Now, with their 5.5 million acres of land in tow, Helium Evolution is ready to get to work and have their story told.
Helium Evolution is hoping to help Canada reach the Asian market, where helium is required for the production of semiconductors, fiber optics, and MRI machines, among others. Countries like Korea, Taiwan, and Japan don’t have enough reserves and are dependent on North America.
Robb noted that Helium Evolution views their operations as ‘green helium’ as there are little-to-no hydrocarbons in their process and a smaller carbon footprint, whereas most of the helium in the world is produced as a by-product of natural gas. Gas in Helium Evolution’s play is 96 percent nitrogen (which occurs naturally in earth’s atmosphere and is environmentally harmless) and 1-2 percent helium.
With low-impact well sites, Helium Evolution will be deploying portable gas plant tech, allowing them to move to different pools as production decreases. These modular facilities are projected to be a boon for Helium Evolution down the road.
By placing a high importance on its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices, Helium Evolution is a company with an eye towards long-term sustainability, which includes prioritizing financial sustainability balanced by efforts to creating a work environment inclusive to everyone. The company will also be doing initiatives locally with individuals and businesses in Saskatchewan.
With its large land mass, experienced team, technologically advanced equipment, and underserved helium markets, Helium Evolution is well-positioned to help Canada unlock its helium potential.