Researchers at Oxford and Durham universities in the UK, working with the Norway-based exploration company, Helium One, announced on Monday at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Yokohama, Japan, that huge helium reserves had been found in the Tanzanian side of the East African Rift Valley. Tanzania’s government said it was not aware of the precious gas.
According to the researchers, gas seeping out of the new Tanzanian reserve contains up to 10.6 per cent helium, while the reserve is estimated to hold about 54 billion cubic feet (1.5 billion cubic metres) of helium gas in total. Helium is used in hospitals in MRI scanners as well as in spacecraft, telescopes and radiation monitors.
They say resources in just one part of the Rift valley are enough to fill more than a million medical MRI scanners.
“This is enough to fill over 1.2 million medical MRI scanners,” said Chris Ballentine, a University of Oxford researcher who co-authored the study, in a news release. Scientists believe they have discovered a huge new helium deposit — and the technique they used to find it could put an end to the global helium shortage.
However, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Mr Justin Ntalikwa, told the ‘Daily News’ in an interview that the government was yet to be informed on the new discovery.
“We don’t have any information regarding the discovery of that gas; those who have announced the discovery know it all,’’ said the PS. Up until now, helium has been mostly found accidentally during oil and gas exploration.
Helium is formed by the slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock. However, global supplies are running low, with warnings that supplies cannot be guaranteed in the long term. In their study, the researchers decided to use oil and gas exploration techniques to do a targeted search for helium.
They looked for the types of rocks that typically produced helium and combined that with seismic images of underground structures that could trap gases. They also showed that volcanic activity provides the heat necessary to release the gas from the rock.
“Helium is the second most abundant element in the Universe but it’s exceedingly rare on Earth,” Prof Gluyas was quoted by the BBC News as saying. Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) Managing Director Dr James Mataragio said his organisation had no mandate to deal with helium gas.
Prof Jon Gluyas, of the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University, who collaborated on the project, said the price of helium had gone up by 500 per cent in the last 15 years.