Cimarex to Tap Riley Ridge for Helium Production
High in the Wyoming mountains, about 15 miles west of Big Piney, a $350 million project is preparing to produce liquid helium for multiple high-tech applications.
The Riley Ridge Field is one of the largest natural gas fields with abundant helium in the United States, a unique claim and contributer to Wyoming economic development. Cimarex Energy Co., which is building the plant, will extract helium by processing natural gas and, using new technology, separating liquid hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide from the gas stream and re-injecting the waste material back underground.
The design aims for minimal impact, will produce scant carbon emissions and involve no ponds or storage reservoirs for water that is produced.
“I grew up hunting and camping here, as did my father,” says Scott Stinson, project manager of the Riley Ridge Madison Gas Development Project. “We are very proud that we took landowners’ concerns into consideration.”
Don Stinson, Scott’s father, is a former chemical engineering professor who started the University of Wyoming’s petroleum engineering department in the 1960s. He came up with the new plant’s design and has testified about it at regulatory hearings.
Production at the new plant, at an elevation of about 8,800 feet in Sublette County, is expected to start in October 2011. The plant has the potential to scale from 200 million cubic feet of gas each day to produce 400 million cubic feet of gas each day, in addition to the potential positive effects it could have on Wyoming economic development.
The major commercial use for liquid helium is to cool magnets in MRI machines. The material also is used in space simulations to test for leaks and to grow silicon crystals in an inert environment.
“This is an extremely long-term asset that will produce constantly for 50 years,” Scott Stinson says.