Mild-mannered accountant Shaun Scott was instrumental more than a decade ago in turning an unknown coal seam gas explorer called Arrow Energy into a major business that was ultimately sold to Shell and Petro China for $3.5bn in 2010.
Now as executive chairman of ASX-listed Noble Helium, Scott (illustrated) is heading another small company into a potentially huge future. Your diarist sat down with Scott and Noble Helium chief executive Justyn Wood over sashimi at Oshin Japanese Restaurant last week to discuss the company’s burgeoning helium projects in Tanzania. The men explained that helium, one of the so-called noble or inert gases, plays an increasingly pivotal role in the global economy.
Helium is essential in the production of advanced semiconductors and fibre optic cables as well as being used in medical equipment such as MRI machines. But Wood warns of a coming helium supply squeeze with Russia, Qatar and Algeria likely to account for 70 per cent of the market within five years.
That makes projects like Noble’s in Tanzania increasingly important. Helium is 50 times more valuable than liquefied natural gas, making the ultimate payday more important. Scott says the ultimate aim is to diversify the helium supply chain and insulate it from disruption and market manipulation.
Scott, a veteran resources executive who has played a key role in unlocking the then frontier petroleum provinces of the East African Rift and the Guyana basins of South America, hopes to start drilling this year in Tanzania but production may be a few years off.
The company’s flagship North Rukwa project in southwest Tanzania covers a combined prospecting area of approximately 1467sq km. Noble Helium, which listed last year, has seen its share surge 25 per cent so far this year to 18c.