Forum in Swift Current Will Put Spotlight on Helium Industry

A helium forum in Swift Current will bring together various stakeholders to discuss the state of the industry and its potential in southwest Saskatchewan. The Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the City of Swift Current will be hosting the helium forum at the Living Sky Casino event centre, March 4. Chamber of Commerce CEO Karla Wiens said the forum is aimed at people and organizations that are involved with the industry in some way. “There is interest from Australia, from all across North America and other parts of Canada as well,” she said. “So we expect it to be well-attended and have a lot of good discussion.” The potential of the industry in southwest Saskatchewan and its ongoing development will have benefits for the region and also for Swift Current. “The potential for our area outside of the drilling is because Swift Current is located on the No. 1 Highway,” she said. “Any kind of construction and plant to keep people employed is a boon to our service industry. That would be the long-term goal. So this is a good starting point.” She hopes the forum will help to create connections and information sharing between various stakeholders that will benefit the industry. “I hope the forum will achieve several things,” she said. “One would be introducing and connecting current industry players with potential investors, potential employees, potential markets to sell into. Anything that facilitates the networks that these folks are going to need to run a successful business, that would be our number one end goal. I think the sharing of information about this little-known industry is hugely important as well.” The forum participants will include representatives from helium exploration and production companies as well as the provincial government, and she felt it can be a useful opportunity to have these stakeholders together at the same venue. “There’s a whole lot of aspects to this business,” she said. “Whether it is regulatory, which the government can address, there are geologists coming who can speak to the formations and where it’s most likely, but there’s also industry players who are operating on the business side. I think they know each other quite well now. However, I’m sure there’s always best practices, and perhaps they can share best practices. Sometimes there’s collaboration between competitors for the better good. So I would think having all of the players together in one room is always a good thing.” The idea for this forum was first proposed last fall by Ron Rosvold, who spoke to the Swift Current & District Chamber of Commerce and the City of Swift Current about the possibility of such an event. He felt there was a need to have a forum, because different companies are currently carrying out exploration work in the area. “I suggested maybe have a forum and invite people so we get an idea of what is really going on in southwest Saskatchewan with helium,” he recalled. “Different companies said they would attend and would be glad to be part of it. I phoned something like 40 different contacts, not all companies.” His interest in the helium industry started when he worked as an operator at the helium plant north of Swift Current. He is not employed in the industry anymore, but he still has many connections and there is interest from the industry to explore for helium in southwest Saskatchewan. “There’s potential, I don’t know how much,” he said. “I think that’s what people are going to talk about, because it’s pretty expensive to explore for and there’s only two companies that are public that you can find on the stock exchange. … There are companies like North American Helium that have drilled a lot of wells and there’s a lot of permits being given out for exploration of helium in the southwest.” According to Rosvold the industry in this region is still in its infancy stage and there are currently only two production facilities. The Weil Group opened a processing facility in 2016 near Mankota to extract and purify helium and Canadian Helium Inc. is operating a facility northwest of Swift Current. Helium was discovered in the Swift Current area in the early 1960s and a production plant was established north of the city along Highway No. 4 in 1963. It continued to operate until 1977. Canadian Helium Inc. in cooperation with Quantum Technology Corporation started to operate a helium plant northwest of Swift Current along the Skyline Road in 2014, which was operated by Rosvold. It remained in production until 2016, when it was shut down. Canadian Helium Inc. reopened it again about a year ago and it is still in operation. “There’s quite a demand for helium now at this point,” he said. “I don’t think Canada or Saskatchewan can fill that demand itself. So there’s bigger projects on the move in other places, but this is a pretty safe place to do business.” There are favourable conditions for finding primary helium in Saskatchewan, because the province has some of the world’s largest concentrations of uranium, and helium is created through the natural decay of radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium. In southern Saskatchewan the geological conditions created four-way structural closures that might trap helium. Helium is well-known as a lifting gas in balloons and airships, but the market for helium is evolving and high technology applications are becoming a growing market segment. This is due to the unique physical properties of helium, which makes it suitable for use in science, medicine and manufacturing. It is an inert gas with a low boiling temperature, and it can therefore be used as a coolant for the superconducting magnets of MRI machines. Other uses include the pressurization and purging of liquid fuels in rockets for space exploration and satellites, as well as the manufacturing of semiconductor chips and fibre optic cables. There will be several speakers at the helium forum. Melinda Yurkowski from the Ministry of Energy and Resources will do a presentation about geological assessments in Saskatchewan to date, marketing grades and potential, and prices going forward. A government representative will also speak about regulations, permitting and incentives. Vance Blydo of North American Helium will talk about exploration under way, future plans and investment opportunities. Dr. Ovi Marin of Quantum Technology Corporation will do a presentation about processing plants and the recovery process, the liquefaction process and the potential in southwest Saskatchewan for a facility. The forum will conclude with a question and answer session and a discussion about the future of the industry.

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