Helium processing plant proposed near Harley Dome
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Mar 14, 2013 | 3173 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Texas-based company is hoping to open a helium processing plant off Interstate 70 northeast of Moab.

IACX Energy of Dallas has applied to Grand County for a conditional use permit and site plan approval to drill near Harley Dome, four miles west of the Utah-Colorado border. The Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission voted Feb. 27 to recommend approval of the project.

The Grand County Council will hold a public hearing to take citizen testimony during its regular meeting Tuesday, March 19. The meeting starts at 4 p.m.

Jeff Lee of IACX Energy declined to discuss the proposal, other than saying the company would sell its product to distributors. He said further comment would come after approval by federal and state governmental bodies. The firm must receive approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, and the Utah Division of Air Quality.

The processing plant would be located on private property, but the well pad and pipeline would be built on federal land permitted through the BLM, according to a staff report from county planning department staff.

Processed helium would be compressed into tube trailers and driven to market, according to the report.

There currently is a shortage of helium, which has boosted prices to $84 per 1,000 cubic feet for helium taken from the national repository in Texas, said Lee Shenton, Grand County technical inspector.

Helium is primarily used as a coolant gas for MRI machines, he said. Other uses include as an inert gas in semiconductor chip manufacturing, as a gas inside fiber optic cables, and as part of the breathing mixture for deep sea diving, Shenton said.

“As industrial processes go, this is about as innocuous as it gets,” he said.

Shenton explained that helium is a naturally occurring byproduct of uranium and radium decay, although he emphasized it is not radioactive.

One environmental impact a processing plant will have, he said, comes from the venting of gas after the helium is removed. That will release methane, according to Shenton.

He said the 1.17-acre well site IACX wants to access has a particularly high concentration of helium – about 7 percent compared to the normal 2 percent.

The county staff report noted that IACX and the BLM anticipate “comparatively low amounts” of wastewater to be produced from the wells.

“A separator will exist at the well head and separating equipment [will be] at the processing facility,” the staff report said. “By-product water will be held in an enclosed storage tank and hauled off as necessary.”

IACX anticipates producing less than 100 tons per year of regulated pollutants, the report stated.

Power will come from a generator, the report adds, and the company anticipates about six trucks per week will take product to market. The company plans to use U.S. 6 and county Road 50, along with I-70 as transportation routes.

The Grand County Planning Commission’s recommended approval is subject to five stipulations. Those are:

• Posting of a reclamation bond to be reviewed and approved by an engineer.

• Written notification of the project to nearby fire departments.

• Compliance with terms of state and federal regulatory agencies.

•Health department approval of a proposed chemical toilet.

• All reports to the Utah Division of Air Quality shall also be given to the Grand County Community Development Department.

Equipment for processing helium will include five vessels for helium separation, vacuum pumps and loading compressors, a water separation vessel and storage tank, three trailers, a possible flare, and yard lighting, according to the planning commission report.

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