Pulsar: Ready, set, drill! (for helium)
by Parker Loew
The drilling of Pulsar Helium’s Jetstream #1 appraisal well at the Topaz helium project off Dunka River Road near Babbitt is set to commence on Feb. 2.
The helium exploration company anticipates the drilling will be completed in one month, with flow testing to commence immediately following demobilization.
“The drilling of the Jetstream #1 appraisal well at our Topaz helium project is imminent, and all preparation is complete. This is a pivotal moment for Pulsar,” said Pulsar Helium’s President and CEO, Thomas Abraham-James.
The appraisal borehole will be drilled to a depth of 686m (2,250 ft) with a contingency in place to extend to 762m (2,500 ft).
A mass spectrometer will be on site, providing gas composition every 100 seconds, with gas samples to be collected when zones of helium gas response are encountered.
Drilling the appraisal borehole is the first step in what Pulsar Helium hopes to be a successful helium mine.
The natural gas pocket Pulsar will drill into tested for 10% helium back when it was discovered accidentally by a copper-nickel exploration company in 2011.
“It’s probably the second-highest concentration discovery in North America,” said Abraham-James. “We need to find out just how much gas is down there.”
The helium explorer would have preferred to drill sooner but hit some snags in getting their drill rig from Wyoming.
The wait is now over, however.
“Our objective with the drilling is to find out what the volume is,” said Abraham-James. “It’s got all the potential in the world. It could be big, it could be modest. We’ll find out soon.”
Pulsar was a recipient of the Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) grant of $20,000 which has helped offset the cost of the appraisal well.
In December, Pulsar Helium announced the results of the seismic survey they conducted, which allowed them to investigate the ground underneath their drill pad to model the projected size of the reserve.
“It looks to be something of a fairly decent size,” he said. “With any luck, we’ll have some good news after the drill program in February.”
While he couldn’t go into exact details on the potential economics of the discovery, Abraham-James gave an overview of what the discovery of a large source of helium could mean.
“Any producing operation would certainly have a positive economic impact on the community,” he said.
He said while 10-20 jobs being realized from a helium-producing mine was in the ballpark, the number could be higher.
“I think that number would probably be a bit higher during the build phase while getting things online and throughout the construction,” he said.
When the discovery was made by accident in 2011, helium was not worth as much as it is now, and once the price skyrocketed, they realized how much a large deposit of natural gas containing 10% helium could be worth.
“There is a global shortage of helium,” he said. “It’s a very valuable product, over a hundred times the value of natural gas.”
The helium price a decade ago was low because the U.S. had a lot of it. Fast forward 10 years, and the U.S. has almost emptied its strategic helium reserve.
While mining in northern Minnesota is currently subject to vast scrutiny and environmental regulation, a helium mine’s environmental footprint would be almost non-existent.
“You’re not extracting rock out of the ground and don’t have waste rock or those issues,” he said. “If you’re driving past and you blink, you may well miss it. It’s going to be to be very unassuming.”
The helium mine wouldn’t need stimulation, cracking, or breaking of the rock as the gas should come out of the hole on its own accord since helium is lighter and less dense than air.
“Nothing is going down the hole in terms of chemicals or anything like that,” he said. There’s no water extraction and no playing with the water table. It sounds almost too good to be true.”
If they find a large pocket of helium and reach the point of production, the size of the processing plant would be around the size of a medium-sized warehouse.
“It’d be relatively short, maybe one story high,” he said. “There would be no gas flaring or anything like that because of the lack of hydrocarbons. It would be very modest.”
If they get to helium processing, the gaseous helium would be stored and transported in large, specialized trucks.
Helium is an inert substance and is non-hazardous, so there is little risk of contamination.
“If it was going to be a substantial producer of helium, which I’m not saying it will be, but it would fill maybe six trucks a day,” he said. “It’s not exactly going to be saturating the road network.”
After the appraisal borehole has been drilled and the samples have been taken and assessed to determine the size of the helium reserve, Pulsar Mining will evaluate the data to determine how to proceed.
“I would say that to justify any build we’d be looking for something that’s got a minimum life of five years,” he said.
There are still a lot of unknowns about the helium deposit, but Abraham-James is hopeful that the appraisal borehole goes as planned so he can diversify and contribute to the state of Minnesota’s economy with a helium mine.
“It’s really exciting, and we think we could be a very positive contribution,” he said.