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The Federal Helium Program
The BLM operates and maintains a helium storage reservoir, enrichment plant, and pipeline system near Amarillo, TX, that supplies over 40 percent of domestic demand for helium. The BLM supplies crude helium to private helium refining companies which in turn refine the helium and market it to consumers.
The Federal Helium Program is comprised of the following:
- Federal Helium Reserve,
- Cliffside Field,
- Federal Helium Pipeline, and
- All other infrastructure owned, leased, or managed under contract by the Secretary of the Interior for the storage, transportation, withdrawal, enrichment, purification, or management of helium.
The BLM is also responsible for evaluating the nation’s helium-bearing gas fields and providing responsible access to Federal land for managed recovery and disposal of helium. The Federal Helium Program operates using non-appropriated funds, (that is money generated from the sale and storage of helium and other related non-tax revenues). After funding operations, the program yields about $430,000 per day for the U.S. Treasury.
Congress enacted the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 (Act) on October 2, 2013. The act:
- Ensures continued access to Federal crude helium; provides for an orderly transition among three phases, resulting in minimal market disruption to end users; increases taxpayer returns and stimulates investment in private helium sources by selling crude helium at market-driven prices;
- Bolsters transparency by requiring timely and public publication of information related to the Federal Helium Reserve;
- Obtains a global helium assessment that includes forecasts of demand and assessments of supply, and
- Establishes helium extraction, separation, and conservation research and development programs; and facilitates the development of a long-term strategy for helium acquisition for all Federal users.
The Act required the Department of the Interior, through the Director of the BLM, to offer for sale, beginning in 2014, a portion of the conservation helium stored underground at the Cliffside Field north of Amarillo. The sale of helium will be accomplished in the following order of priority: Federal in-kind crude helium, and current year sales delivered proportionally and sold through sales and auction.