"NAHATA DZIIL — On red-dirt pastureland on the southern edge of the Navajo Nation, El Pahi stands beside what looks like a child’s science experiment, but on a larger scale.
Six pill-shaped light-blue tanks are arranged beside what resembles a huge air-conditioner window unit and a silver cylindrical tank. A constant, high-pitched hum pierces the air as the wind blows across the range.
The contraption is a transfer station for a helium mining operation, one of a growing number in the remote region. The non-toxic gas exists in some of the highest concentrations in North America, and possibly the world, in pockets of the Navajo Nation and northeastern Arizona.
Helium is the universe’s second-most abundant element, but it’s in short supply on Earth, where imbalances in the market repeatedly cause global shortages. The non-combustible gas has historically been extracted as a byproduct of oil and natural gas, but private drilling companies are increasingly becoming interested in mining it on its own."