The town of Mankota, Saskatchewan is getting a lift to the local economy with a revolutionary new helium plant.
The grand opening of the new Weil Group Resources helium plant was held Wednesday morning. The plant, which began operations in July, is located just outside the community of about 200 people, located 200 kilometres southwest of Moose Jaw.
“Both the town and the R.M (of Mankota) worked very hard with (Weil) to make it work the way it has,” said David Marit, MLA for Wood River. “I think it bodes well for the community and the province of Saskatchewan when you see global companies wanting to come to small-town Saskatchewan and do business.”
Weil Group Resources is an international energy sector company specializing in helium extraction, with three offices in the United States (Richmond, VA, Houston, TX and Dallas, TX) and one in Hong Kong.
“It is special from a number of perspectives,” said Weil CEO Jeffrey Vogt, who explained that the Mankota plant uses cutting-edge technology from plant designers Linde Engineering from Germany. “Linde designed a plant that uses membrane pressure-swing absorption…that separates the gases and enriches the helium.”
When news of the plant was released in February of 2016, Weil Helium President Bo Sears said they were taking advantage of exploratory work that was done by Texaco in the 1960s, when the oil company was looking for natural gas.
“We have known helium deposits (in Mankota),” explained Sears. “Operators in the past have found gas that was inert (and) didn’t burn, so they plugged (the wells) and went home. So we’ve gone in and reactivated those wells and that’s why we see real opportunity here.”
The new plant has also created job opportunities for locals.
“It makes everybody feel like the area is prospering,” said Kurt Silbernagle who was born and raised in Mankota, is now the lead operator at the helium plant.
“It’s been strictly agricultural all these years, and for something like this – something so close to Mankota…and the publicity it’s received – it’s very exciting for everyone around here.”
Helium has uses beyond just filling balloons. According to a Weil news release, “its unique qualities have applications in science, medicine and manufacturing. Its ultra-low boiling point makes it an ideal coolant primarily for MRI machines, as well as a critical resource in semiconductor chip and fiber optic cable manufacturing”.