The government of Saskatchewan is hoping to lift the province’s helium industry to significant heights by the start of the new decade.
Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre announced the “Helium Action Plan,” which aims for Saskatchewan to supply 10 per cent of the world’s usable helium by 2030. Currently, the government says, the province supplies around one per cent.
Eyre said achieving that goal would create more than 500 permanent jobs and generate annual helium exports valued at more than $500 million.
And she touted what she says will be a “low-emission” industry when compared with other exporters.
“We have high helium concentrations in the province and some of the most attractive geology in the world for low-emission helium production,” Eyre said Monday.
“Our helium deposits are mixed with nitrogen, which makes up 70 per cent of the earth’s atmosphere, so it can be released emissions-free.”
According to the province, Saskatchewan harbours deposits of up to two per cent in helium concentrations, and “promising shows” of up to seven per cent concentrations. This makes dedicated helium mining more viable than in other jurisdictions where lower concentrations mean extraction is largely tied to natural gas production.
Generally, the province says, 0.5 per cent concentrations are the global benchmark for economic recovery from standalone wells.
To help encourage investment in exploration, the Saskatchewan Petroleum Innovation Incentive (SPII) is being expanded to include helium projects.
The SPII offers transferable tax credits for qualifying oil and gas, and now helium, projects at a rate of 25 per cent of eligible project costs, up to a maximum of $5 million in credits.
The Oil and Gas Production Investment Incentive (OGPII), which already includes helium processing projects, provides qualified Saskatchewan infrastructure projects with a 15 per cent transferable royalty credit, based on capital expenditures, up to a maximum of $75 million in credits.
“I think the OGPII and SPII are very prudent in helping attract and increase investment,” Eyre said.
“It pays for itself. Absolutely, it pays for itself.”
The action plan also promises to help expand geological research, modernize well analysis reporting, automate administrative tasks and aid export by helping build liquefication capacity locally.
Other goals of the plan include growing the industry to 150 dedicated helium wells, and building up to 15 purification and liquefaction facilities. Eyre said there are currently nine active dedicated wells.
“MRIs are the principle use for helium in North America, accounting for 20-30 per cent of helium use,” said Royal Helium chief executive Andrew Davidson, one of several industry executives present at the Monday morning press conference.
“Globally, there’s a big shift towards use in high tech manufacturing. Microchips, semiconductors, fibre optics — all of these things use helium in the manufacturing process. These are the big growth drivers we’re seeing globally.”
Patty Thomas, geosciences vice president with North American Helium, called the incentives being offered by the government a “big deal,” and said an exploration well can cost up to $1 million to drill.