BOX 1.1

What Is the Federal Helium Reserve?

The Federal Helium Reserve, also referred to herein as the Helium Reserve or the Reserve, consists of

  • The Bush Dome Reservoir, a naturally occurring underground structural dome near Amarillo, Texas, where federally owned (and some privately owned) crude helium is stored,

  • An extensive helium pipeline system running through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas (the Helium Pipeline) that connects crude helium extraction plants with each other, with helium refining facilities, and with the Bush Dome Reservoir, and

  • Various wells, pumps, and related equipment used to pressurize the Bush Dome Reservoir, to place into and withdraw crude helium from it, and to operate other parts of the Helium Reserve.

BLM, as operator of the Reserve, also has an interest in the partnership Cliffside Refiners LP, which owns a crude helium enrichment unit and related compression units (the “Enrichment Unit”). The Enrichment Unit, located at the Bush Dome Reservoir, is designed to produce crude helium of sufficient concentration and pressure for further refining. Pursuant to the partnership agreement, BLM is responsible for operating the Enrichment Unit. The four partners in Cliffside Refiners LP are companies that operated helium refining facilities connected to the Helium Pipeline when the partnership was founded. See Chapter 5 for a more detailed discussion of the Federal Helium Reserve.

helium market (Chapter 3), the current and expected future sources of helium (Chapter 4), and the operation of the Federal Helium Reserve itself (Chapter 5).


In addressing its charge, the committee was struck by the fact that although the helium market is relatively small—the amount of helium consumed domestically each year is a tiny fraction of the market for produced gases1—the helium industry is quite complex. On the demand side, helium has many different applications, some more important than others from the perspective of national interest and some impacted more directly than others by how the Reserve is managed.


The average annual amount of fuel-based gases (natural gases produced for use as fuel) consumed in the United States from 2004 to 2006 was approximately 20,000 billion cubic feet (Bcf) (Energy Information Administration, 2009). In contrast, helium’s average annual domestic consumption for 2006-2009 has been approximately 2.5 Bcf, or slightly more than one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the fuel-based gas market (USGS, 2009).

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