Owned by North American Helium Inc. (NAH), the $32-million plant is expected to produce more than 50 million cubic feet of purified helium for commercial sale.
That’s enough to fill about 400,000 party balloons a day — though helium is used for a lot of other things, such as 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,” said Bronwyn Eyre, Saskatchewan’s energy and resources minister.
“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 considered a critical mineral in both Canada and the United States and is considered necessary for the modern economy and emerging technologies, which face supply chain risks.
Since 2017, helium prices have risen 160 per cent due to increased global demand and supply shortages.
Canada has the fifth-largest helium resource 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,” said Doug Steele, Cypress Hills MLA.
“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 helium plant, known as the NAH helium purification project, was approved for Saskatchewan’s oil and gas processing investment incentive program, providing 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,” said Marlon McDougall, NAH’s president and chief operating officer.
With the NAH facility, Saskatchewan now has nine active helium wells and 24 in the drilling process. The province expects the number of helium wells to eventually surpass 100.