Federal Helium Facilities
America’s Federal Helium Reserve is located in a geologic structure known as the Bush Dome, about 20 miles northwest of Amarillo, Texas. It holds billions of cubic feet of natural gas with varying percentages of helium.
Gas from the reserve is sent to the Federal Crude Helium Enrichment Unit, a BLM-owned facility near the Bush Dome, which enriches the gas to about 80 percent helium, and adds it to the pipeline for delivery to privately owned plants. Helium-rich gas from the reserve is transported along a 424-mile pipeline to 10 privately owned crude helium plants and six privately owned pure helium refineries.
At BLM and other enrichment plants, helium is extracted from natural gas at very low temperatures. The natural gas is cooled until only helium and some nitrogen are still in a gaseous state. The liquid gases (mostly natural gas) are removed, warmed back into a gaseous state and sold. The remaining gas, now about 80 percent helium, is transported to the refineries that use a similar cooling process to distill the mixture into pure helium.
About 2 billion cubic feet of helium are removed from the reserve per year. This amount accounts for 42 percent of the domestic demand for helium – and 35 percent of the global demand.