A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘helium production’

Keyes, Oklahoma

Posted by graywacke on February 23, 2017

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-four-or-five days blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2327; A Landing A Day blog post number 758.

untitledDan:  Today’s lat/long 36o 48.889’N, 102o 15.464’W) puts me in the Oklahoma Panhandle:


Here’s my local (very local) landing map:


No doubt about which town to feature, eh?

My streams-only map shows that I landed in the watershed of the North Canadian River (18th hit):


As you can see, the North Canadian flows to the Canadian (47th hit); on to the Arkansas (125th hit); on, of course, to the MM (908th hit).

Looking  at the above map got me to thinking.  Obviously, the Arkansas River is appropriately named, running right through the heart of Arkansas.  But the Canadian River?  Why not the Oklahoma River, running right through the heart of Oklahoma?

Well, here’s what Wiki has to say about the name:

It is unclear why the river is called the Canadian. On John C. Fremont’s route map of 1845, the river’s name is listed as “Goo-al-pah or Canadian River.”  “Goo-al-pah” is from the Comanche and Kiowa name for the river.

[OK, but from whence cometh “Canadian?”]

In 1929 Muriel Wright wrote that the Canadian River was named about 1820 by French traders who noted another group of traders from Canada (Canadiens) had camped on the river near its confluence with the Arkansas River.  [Or alternately, I would think, the traders from Canada simply named the river after themselves.]

[That’s explanation # 1.]

According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Spanish explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries called it the Rio Buenaventura and the Magdalena.  The upper part was called Rio Colorado by the Spanish.

[No explanation here.]

A more recent explanation comes from William Bright, who wrote that the name is “probably derived from Río Canadiano”, a Spanish spelling of the Caddo word káyántinu, which was the Caddos’ name for the nearby Red River.

[Explanation #2.]

The name could be of Spanish origin from the word cañada (meaning “glen”), as the Canadian River formed a steep canyon in northern New Mexico and a somewhat broad canyon in Texas. A few historical records document this explanation.

[Explanation #3.]

You know what?  If I had to choose, I’d go with #3.  WordReference.com confirms that cañada means small valley, ravine or narrow pass.  But my bottom line is this:  too bad somebody didn’t think of “Oklahoma!”

By the way, “Oklahoma” is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning “red people.”

Time to strap yourself and go for a ride. Click HERE.

Since I landed so close to Keyes, one would figure I have decent Street View coverage.  One would be right:


And here’s what the Orange Dude sees:


I have to travel some distance to get a look at the North Canadian River:


And here’s what the OD sees, looking upstream:


I don’t see any water, do you?  Anyway, let’s look downstream:


I guess these guys are pretty damn confident that there’s no significant rain in the forecast!

There’s not much to say about Keyes (pop 324).  But before going to Wiki, I’ll post this pleasant little jaunt through Keyes, courtesy of KSpangler1977:


Now it’s Wiki time, which (who?) says that Keyes was named after a “deceased railroad engineer.”  Wiki goes on to say:

The town’s location in the Hugoton Friedrich Basin makes it an ideal source for helium production from natural gas. A helium plant was built near Keyes in 1958.  169 million cubic feet of liquid helium is produced annually by the Keyes Helium Company.

Two things:  I don’t know squat about where & how we get our helium, and 169 million cubic feet of liquid helium sounds like a helluva lot.  To get a handle on helium quantities produced, this from Wiki:

In 2008, worldwide, approximately 169 million cubic meters of helium were extracted from natural gas or withdrawn from helium reserves, with approximately 78% from the United States

There are about 35 cubic feet in a cubic meter, so 35 x 169,000,000 = 60,000,000,000 (or 60 billion) cubic feet for the world, and about 47 billion for the U.S.  I guess 169 million cubic feet (or about 0.4% of the US production) makes sense. 

Most interestingly, Wiki refers to “helium production from natural gas.”  Really?  Well, I’ll start with the “helium” entry for Wiki:

Helium is a chemical element with symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas, the first in the noble gas group in the periodic table. Its boiling point is the lowest among all the elements.

A helium atom consists of two protons, two neutrons and [of course], two electrons.

After hydrogen, helium is the second lightest and second most abundant element in the observable universe, being present at about 24% of the total elemental mass, which is more than 12 times the mass of all the heavier elements combined.

History of Helium Production

After an oil drilling operation in 1903 in Dexter, Kansas, produced a gas geyser that would not burn, Kansas state geologist Erasmus Haworth collected samples of the escaping gas and took them back to the University of Kansas at Lawrence where, he discovered that the gas consisted of, by volume, 72% nitrogen, 15% methane [the typical natural gas compound, but not enough for the gas to catch fire], 1.8% helium, 1% hydrogen, and the remainder unidentifiable. This showed that despite its overall rarity on Earth, helium was concentrated in large quantities under the American Great Plains, available for extraction as a byproduct of natural gas.

On Earth it is relatively rare—5.2 ppm by volume in the atmosphere. Most terrestrial helium present today is created by the natural radioactive decay of heavy radioactive elements (primarily thorium and uranium). This radiogenic helium may be trapped with natural gas in concentrations as high as 7%, although concentrations as low as 0.3% can be economically recovered.

[The Oklahoma Panhandle contains gas deposits with helium concentrations as high as 2%.]

This is all pretty interesting to me.  Let me make sure that my readers know what the word “trapped” means as used above.  When natural gas is produced by decaying vegetative matter in rocks, it tends to rise through cracks in the rock, or between grains within the rock.  Obviously, some will simply rise like that until it is discharged to the atmosphere. 

But lucky for us, some is trapped.  Conceptually, this means that the natural gas rises until it “bumps into” an overlying geologic formation that is very dense, aka non-permeable.  And then, if the overlying cap bows upward, forming a dome, more and more natural gas will become trapped under the dome, making the trap a subsurface reservoir that can be drilled into and tapped for natural gas production.

So how is the helium trapped with the natural gas in the Oklahoma Panhandle?  Let’s look at a cross-section from the Anadarko Petroleum Coporation:


Notice in the upper left, it says “Panhandle Field.”  That’s another name for the Hugoton Field.  You’ll also note the orange layer of rock titled “Early Permian Carbonates.”  Carbonates are limestone, and this limestone formation (which is several hundreds of feet thick) is permeable; i.e., fluids can readily flow through the formation.

You’ll note that above the Early Permian Carbonates are the “Middle Permian Evaporites.”  An evaporate is a formation that is left behind when an inland (typically salty) sea evaporates.  Evaporites are typically non-permeable, so this formation forms the cap.

Through the eons, natural gas (and helium) that was released from deeper formations rose up until it became trapped in the dome formed by the “Amarillo Uplift,” associated with the building of the Witchita Mountains (which are at the surface in SW Oklahoma). 

And then, somebody smart drilled a well down to the carbonate formation at the dome & the rest is history.

Did we all learn something today class?  I can see by the nodding heads that we did!  Excellent!

It’s time for a couple of GE Panoramio shots.  I’ll start with this, by DeGlobalNomad, taken just SW of Keyes:


And this, taken a few miles further SW, by TomWint55:


That’ll do it . . .




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