A new star is born in helium sector

AUSTRALIAN explorer Big Star Energy, formerly oil and gas giant Antares, has evolved yet again, to become the only wholly focussed helium player on the ASX under a new banner called Blue Star Helium.
A new star is born in helium sector A new star is born in helium sector A new star is born in helium sector A new star is born in helium sector A new star is born in helium sector

Paul Hunt

Senior Journalist: Oil & Gas, Policy.

Paul Hunt

Blue Star made several announcements on Friday, telling the market it had not just changed its name, but had also begun in depth helium offtake discussions with mid-stream suppliers.

The company has aggressively acquired high-margin prospective helium licenses in Colorado, US, over the last 12 months close to the historical Model Dome helium field. 

Its latest acquisition of 30,000 acres of land over the March quarter took its total gross acreage position to a whopping 121,086 net acres. 

It is currently undertaking prospective resource evaluation at two of its projects, the Enterprise and Galileo prospects. 

Design for an exploration well and permitting is underway. 

While conditions for the US oil patch throughout are worsening, the company expects helium demand to continue soaring. 

Blue Star told the market it had been relatively unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil price but acknowledged the challenging time for other explorers in the region. 

Helium is often a byproduct of petroleum extraction, and while about a third of all helium supplies come from Qatar, North America is also a major exporter of the rare noble gas. 

With the oil price at record lows in recent weeks, and oversupply of oil in the international market, helium production is suddenly also at risk as oil and gas producers begin to shut in wells with associated helium. 

Helium has a range of industrial uses in health, military, computing and communications, as well as the obligatory party balloon. 

In the COVID-19 crisis context, the gas is mixed with oxygen to create heliox for hospital respirators. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, helium had already sustained a period of critical shortage, and Blue Star managing director Joanne Kendrick expects this to continue in the near and longer-term. 

In Blue Star's corporate update on Friday, Kedrick said the LNG and natural gas market across North America was likely to push demand and pricing for the gas higher than it was prior to recent events. 

Already the price of helium is more than 100 times the price of natural gas.

"There is some helium supply disruption resulting from low natural gas prices and a worldwide LNG glut," Kendrick said.

"It is likely that major new LNG projects with associated helium will see delays as well as a lack of further investment and this will have a more lasting and significant effect than any short-term impacts to demand." 

This would "in turn have natural consequences" pushing helium prices up in 2021 and beyond, she said. 

Another advantage from the savaged oil price in the US, is the sudden availability of onshore rigs in North America. 

While a post-COVID world is difficult to predict with certainty, the company expects its planned drilling program costs to dramatically reduce from previous estimates due to an abundance of oilfield services. 

Blue Star Energy's share price jumped 20% at opening. Its shares were trading at 0.6 cents. 

The company had about $507,000 cash in the bank. 

There is only one other helium explorer listed on the ASX, Renergen Energy, which is mainly focused on its Virginia LNG project in South Africa. 

While Big Star has not been hit by the oil price plunge, Renergen has felt the impact of low prices, with revenue dropping 13% to just $220,000 over the March quarter.