10 July 2016, Dar es Salaam — Some independent analysts say the recently discovered helium gas in Lake Rukwa could be worth $3.5 billion. The analysts from Global Risk Insights, however, say the discovery of 54.2 billion standard cubic feet of helium could escalate land disputes and conflicts between villages and investors.
“With this latest find valued at $3.5 billion, Tanzania has much to gain, considering its nominal GDP stands at $46.8 billion. The find will further galvanise the mining sector,” the analysts’ report says. Scientists from Durham and Oxford universities announced last month that vast resources of the rare Helium gas had been discovered in Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley. The discovery, described as game-changer, is set to end concerns over a shortage of gas used in medical diagnosis equipment, mainly MRI and in rocket science.
But even as the Global Risk Insights’ analysts gave their estimates, Helium One, the company, which is set to mine the resource, said it had planned an extensive work programme to convert the resource into reserves and define additional prospects.
The current global market is thought to be worth $6 billion, with the price of bulk liquid helium rising by 100 per cent in the past 10 years, Helium One’s statement says. Global consumption is around 8bcf a year
Helium markets have been quite volatile in recent years especially during the three years of global shortage from 2011 to 2013, followed by two years of oversupply caused by the start of production from Qatar II plant between 2014 and 2015, the Helium One company says. The global helium market appears to be finding equilibrium in 2016.
Other reports say at one point helium fetched $35 per litre during the time of a great shortage, but prices later stabilised to between $6.5 and $12 per litre.
The US has so far been the world’s leading helium supplier with approximately 60 percent (24bcf) share of global supply in 2015, followed by Qatar with 24 per cent. Algeria, Australia, Canada, Poland and Russia are also helium producing nations.
But at 54.2 billion standard cubic feet discovered in Tanzania, the country is set to be the largest supplier.
The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is a custodian of 24bcf of the US helium reserves announced in 2013 that it would begin to auction an increasing percentage of the reserve annually until it declined to 3.0 billion cubic feet (estimated to occur in 2022).
Helium is used in medical diagnosis equipment, especially MRI scanners, which are the single largest global consumers of liquid helium, a product that has no substitute in superconducting technology. Helium deposits in the country are enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners.
Being lighter than air, and having the advantage of being fire-retardant, helium is an important component in aerospace and aircraft manufacturing.
It has been used in everything from a medium to displace fuel in space rockets, to a lifting agent in new hybrid airships with Lockheed Martin, due to launch their LMH1 hybrid airship in 2018. Helium is now also being used in hard drives to create an atmosphere that is less resistant than air, resulting in less power consumption
But the gas is not renewable or replaceable and has the tendency of defying gravity and leaks into outer space.