History

This Texas Town was Once Home to Global Helium Production

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Helium is a noble gas commonly used today to decorate for parties, then entertain others with funny voices, but at one time, it was an essential resource to the entire globe. Northwest of Amarillo, about 12 miles, was home to The National Helium Reserve, AKA the Federal Helium Reserve. This spot was chosen for a naturally-occurring geological formation, and established with the enactment of the Helium Act of 1925. This area, as well as others in the United States, holds natural gas featuring extraordinarily high percentages of helium. The gas was key for airships and later as coolant during the Cold War and subsequent Space Race.

This Texas Town was Once Home to Global Helium Production

Photo: envato elements

From 1929 until 1943, the Amarillo site stored and furnished nearly almost all of the world’s helium in the 50,000-acre natural structure locally known as the Cliffside Field. Continuously operating 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the plant extracted the helium by liquefying extracted natural gas, then separating the helium at -300°. A research center still on site continues to provide vital data on the production and uses of the gas, including low-temperature research, shielded-arc welding, nuclear energy programs, and space exploration in the name of national defense.

This Texas Town was Once Home to Global Helium Production

Photo: envato elements

With Texas resources, plus those fed from out of state, a billion cubic meters of the gas were stored by 1995. Because tremendous debt was tied to the Reserve, the “Helium Privatization Act of 1996” directed the Department of the Interior to by 2005, begin selling off the reserve. By 2007, the Amarillo Helium Plant was reported as auction pending by the federal government. However, by early 2011, it was still government-owned. In May 2013, the House of Representatives voted to extend government control over the reserve. How many ways can you think of in which this gas is used in everyday life as you know it?