Exell Helium Plant

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: September 21, 2019

The Exell Helium Plant, in southern Moore County near the Potter county line, was the first World War II-vintage plant established in the Panhandle by the Federal Bureau of Mines. It came about as a result of the need for helium as a lifting gas in semirigid and nonrigid airships used to escort Allied shipping and in observation and barrage balloons. The plant began production on March 13, 1943, and was soon operating at 25 percent above its rated capacity. The facility, initially supervised by a few experienced operators from the bureau's Amarillo plant, became a model for efficiency. Housing was constructed nearby for over 1,000 employees. Railroad service was provided by the North Texas and Santa Fe line, which furnished specially made cars to pick up large cylinder tanks of compressed helium for shipment. Some of the helium extracted here figured prominently in the development of the first atomic bomb. Twice the Exell Plant was given the coveted Army-Navy "E" Award for excellence in the production of vital war materials. For several years a 125-foot guard tower, built out of an old oil derrick and containing a man-powered elevator, was a unique feature on the plant grounds.

Exell was the only bureau plant not to be temporarily deactivated immediately after the war. By 1953 it was a leader in the production of helium for intercontinental missiles and the embryonic space program. The plant's production capacity was expanded to about 240 million cubic feet in 1956–57 and to more than 300 million cubic feet annually in 1960. In 1968 a new separation unit, the largest of its type in any bureau plant, was added to recover more than 98 percent of the helium from the Colorado Interstate Gas Company's feed gas; as a result, an additional 40 million cubic feet per year could be extracted. Two more units, one of which raises the purity of helium-gas mixture stored for conservation from 70 to about 95 percent, were installed to recover helium extracted from the Cliffside gas field in 1970. In 1980 new cryogenic purification and liquefication equipment and a pressure swing absorption unit were added to help supply the increased national demand. With about seventy full-time employees by 1986, the Exell Plant continued to be a major producer and supplier of both gaseous and liquefied helium for weather and medical research purposes and such federal government agencies as NASA. In 1994 the plant employed about 100 employees, and roughly 98 percent of all its production was for government use. Over the years equipment had been modernized for the purpose of meeting environmental standards, improving efficiency, and reducing operating costs. See also HELIUM PRODUCTION.

Jay B. Funk and James C. Jarrett, Moore County: Memories That Count (Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1986). M. D. Minor, The History of Moore County, Stressing Education (M.A. thesis, West Texas State College, 1949).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Exell Helium Plant,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 25, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/exell-helium-plant.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995
September 21, 2019