Provisions of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013

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Publication date: 
10 October 2013
Number: 
146

Almost seventeen months after Congress held its first hearing on the impending closure of the Federal Helium Reserve, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 was signed into law.

Almost seventeen months after Congress held its first hearing on the impending closure of the Federal Helium Reserve, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 was signed into law. Public Law 113-40 allows continued operation of the Reserve while moving toward the goal of ending federal involvement in helium operations.

The law establishes an auction system for the sale of helium in the Reserve, and mandates that all property, equipment, and interests held by the United States in this Reserve be disposed of by September 2021. Importantly, P.L. 113-40 contains provisions assuring continued access to helium for federal agencies and the holders of federal research grants. The law also authorizes programs on an assessment of the helium gas resource, low-BTU gas separation, helium conservation, and helium-3 separation.

Federal Research:

Section 2 of the law provides the following definition: “The term ‘Federal user’ means a Federal agency or extramural holder of one or more Federal research grants using helium.”

In several sections that follow, the law refers to “Federal users” having “priority pipeline access” for future purchases of refined helium.

Helium Gas Resource Assessment:

Section 16, Helium Gas Resource Assessment, states:

“(a) In General- Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, the Secretary [of the Interior], acting through the Director of the United States Geological Survey, shall—

(1) in coordination with appropriate heads of State geological surveys--

(A) complete a national helium gas assessment that identifies and quantifies the quantity of helium, including the isotope helium-3, in each reservoir, including assessments of the constituent gases found in each helium resource, such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and natural gas; and
(B) make available the modern seismic and geophysical log data for characterization of the Bush Dome Reservoir;

(2) in coordination with appropriate international agencies and the global geology community, complete a global helium gas assessment that identifies and quantifies the quantity of the helium, including the isotope helium-3, in each reservoir;

(3) in coordination with the Secretary of Energy, acting through the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration, complete--

(A) an assessment of trends in global demand for helium, including the isotope helium-3;
(B) a 10-year forecast of domestic demand for helium across all sectors, including scientific and medical research, commercial, manufacturing, space technologies, cryogenics, and national defense; and
(C) an inventory of medical, scientific, industrial, commercial, and other uses of helium in the United States, including Federal uses, that identifies the nature of the helium use, the amounts required, the technical and commercial viability of helium recapture and recycling in that use, and the availability of material substitutes wherever possible; and

(4) submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a report describing the results of the assessments required under this paragraph.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $1,000,000.”

Low-BTU Gas Separation and Helium Conservation:

Section 17, Low-BTU Gas Separation and Helium Conservation states:

“(a) Authorization- The Secretary of Energy shall support programs of research, development, commercial application, and conservation (including the programs described in subsection (b))—

(1) to expand the domestic production of low-Btu gas and helium resources;

(2) to separate and capture helium from natural gas streams; and

(3) to reduce the venting of helium and helium-bearing low-Btu gas during natural gas exploration and production.

(b) Programs-

(1) MEMBRANE TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH- The Secretary of Energy, in consultation with other appropriate agencies, shall support a civilian research program to develop advanced membrane technology that is used in the separation of low-Btu gases, including technologies that remove helium and other constituent gases that lower the Btu content of natural gas.

(2) HELIUM SEPARATION TECHNOLOGY- The Secretary of Energy shall support a research program to develop technologies for separating, gathering, and processing helium in low concentrations that occur naturally in geological reservoirs or formations, including--

(A) low-Btu gas production streams; and
(B) technologies that minimize the atmospheric venting of helium gas during natural gas production.

(3) INDUSTRIAL HELIUM PROGRAM- The Secretary of Energy, working through the Advanced Manufacturing Office of the Department of Energy, shall carry out a research program--

(A) to develop low-cost technologies and technology systems for recycling, reprocessing, and reusing helium for all medical, scientific, industrial, commercial, aerospace, and other uses of helium in the United States, including Federal uses; and
(B) to develop industrial gathering technologies to capture helium from other chemical processing, including ammonia processing.

(c) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $3,000,000.”

Helium-3 Separation:

Section 18, Helium-3 Separation states:

“(a) Interagency Cooperation- The Secretary shall cooperate with the Secretary of Energy, or a designee, on any assessment or research relating to the extraction and refining of the isotope helium-3 from crude helium and other potential sources, including--

(1) gas analysis; and

(2) infrastructure studies.

(b) Feasibility Study- The Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, or a designee, may carry out a study to assess the feasibility of--

(1) establishing a facility to separate the isotope helium-3 from crude helium; and
(2) exploring other potential sources of the isotope helium-3.

(c) Report- Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a report that contains a description of the results of the assessments conducted under this section.

(d) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $1,000,000.”

Federal Agency Helium Acquisition Strategy:

Section 19, Federal Agency Helium Acquisition Strategy, refers to Phase D which is a date no later than September 30, 2021 when the Secretary of the Interior is to dispose of all facilities and interests held by the United States in the Federal Helium System.

“In anticipation of the implementation of Phase D. . . , and not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, the Secretary (in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the National Science Foundation, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies as appropriate) shall submit to Congress a report that provides for Federal users--

(1) an assessment of the consumption of, and projected demand for, crude and refined helium;

(2) a description of a 20-year Federal strategy for securing access to helium;

(3) a determination of a date prior to September 30, 2021, for the implementation of Phase D . . . that minimizes any potential supply disruptions for Federal users;

(4) an assessment of the effects of increases in the price of refined helium and methods and policies for mitigating any determined effects; and

(5) a description of a process for prioritization of uses that accounts for diminished availability of helium supplies that may occur over time.”