New exploration technique by Oxford and Durham universities finds significant Helium reserves
A new approach to gas exploration has discovered a huge helium gas field, which could address the increasingly critical shortage of this vital yet rare element.
Helium doesn’t just make your voice squeaky – it is critical to many things we take for granted, including MRI scanners in medicine, welding, industrial leak detection and nuclear energy. However, known reserves are quickly running out. Until now helium has never been found intentionally – being accidentally discovered in small quantities during oil and gas drilling.
Now, a research group from Oxford and Durham universities, working with Helium One, a helium exploration company headquartered in Norway, has developed a brand new exploration approach. The first use of this method has resulted in the discovery of a world-class helium gas field in Tanzania.
Their research shows that volcanic activity provides the intense heat necessary to release the gas from ancient, helium-bearing rocks. Within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley, volcanoes have released helium from ancient deep rocks and have trapped this helium in shallower gas fields. The research is being presented by Durham University PhD student Diveena Danabalan at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan.
Diveena Danabalan, of Durham University’s Department of Earth Sciences, said: ‘We show that volcanoes in the Rift play an important role in the formation of viable helium reserves. Volcanic activity likely provides the heat necessary to release the helium accumulated in ancient crustal rocks. However, if gas traps are located too close to a given volcano, they run the risk of helium being heavily diluted by volcanic gases such as carbon dioxide, just as we see in thermal springs from the region. We are now working to identify the ‘goldilocks-zone’ between the ancient crust and the modern volcanoes where the balance between helium release and volcanic dilution is ‘just right’.’
The University of Durham, commonly known as Durham University, is a public research university in Durham, North East England.
It was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832 and granted a Royal Charter in 1837. It was one of the first universities to open in England for more than 600 years and has a claim towards being the third oldest university in England.
Durham University has a unique estate, which includes 63 listed buildings, ranging from the 11th-century Castle to a 1930s Art Deco Chapel. The university also owns and manages the World Heritage Site in partnership with Durham Cathedral. The university’s ownership of the World Heritage Site includes Durham Castle (which is a residence for students who are members of University College), Palace Green, and the surrounding buildings including the historic Cosin’s Library.
Durham is a collegiate university, with its main functions divided between the academic departments of the university and 16 colleges. In general, the departments perform research and provide lectures to students, while the colleges are responsible for the domestic arrangements and welfare of undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and some university staff.