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Helium mine in Minnesota's Iron Range one step closer to opening as engineers conduct flow tests

Flow tests conducted at site of potential helium mine in northern Minnesota
Flow tests conducted at site of potential helium mine in northern Minnesota 02:49

BABBITT, Minn. — Minnesota is a step closer to having a helium mine up in the Iron Range. Helium was discovered by accident years ago outside of Babbitt, and it could be one of the richest helium reservoirs in the world.

"When we see the flow measurements from this and we have these next steps, we're going to very, very happy," Michael Sturdy said.

Sturdy is the operations manager for Pulsar Helium, a global team of scientists and engineers who, in February, successfully dug down nearly half a mile to confirm a reservoir of helium gas. Since then, crews have lined the hole, capped it and then installed special equipment that works like a faucet.

"This is a critical step because the calculations of the pressure test and flow build-up will go to reservoir engineers, and they can calculate if we have a bigger resource than we originally looked at," Sturdy said.

What's already known is that the market for helium has ballooned to billions of dollars worldwide and there's limited supply. When turned into a liquid, helium safely cools everything from rocket ships to MRI machines to R&D equipment at the U.

The U.S. used to be a major supplier of helium but not anymore, which is why a helium mine right smack dab in the middle of the country could be a gold mine.

AJ Cardenas grew up in Minnesota and has family in Babbitt — that makes him among Pulsar's first local hires.

"I think it's more for everybody, more than just locally," Cardenas said. "If these wells can produce what they hope they can produce, I think it means more on a global and national level."

Pulsar managers estimate another year or two of tests before potentially building a production facility.

"There's not a generic plant, per se, for helium at the well site. It has to be tailor-made for the well you have, the gas composition, and the pressure and rates we're looking at," Sturdy said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has no regulations for mining gas, but state lawmakers just passed a bill to change that. Creating those rules and how to enforce them could take a few years.

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