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Rise in helium costs could deflate your wallet

Posted September 23, 2013

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— Helium party balloons won't be the only thing affected if there's a worldwide helium shortage.

Your health care costs could also rise.

That's because the gas, when used in a liquid form, is an inexpensive way to help keep cool powerful magnets used in medical equipment such as MRI machines and medical lasers.

It's also an essential resource for the aerospace industry and in the production of computer chips and optical fiber.

The Federal Helium Program, which provides about 42 percent of the nation's helium from a storage site near Amarillo, Texas, is set to shut down Oct. 7 unless lawmakers intervene.

The shutdown is a result of a 1996 law requiring the reserve to pay off a $1.3 billion debt by selling its helium.

The debt is paid, but billions of cubic feet of helium remain, and if helium sales halt, the costs could soar.

And that would also mean, the White House says, harming many U.S. industries and disrupting national security programs.

Alex Smirnov, a chemist at North Carolina State University, says it is already difficult for some industries to get it.

"Small hospitals that do not recover and reuse this gas will have no choice but to shut down the operation," he said.

Smirnov says the helium is out there but that it could take years for private industry to get at it.

U.S. lawmakers are hoping to avoid a shutdown of the helium reserve.

Last week, the Senate voted 97-2 to continue the helium program.

The bill, however, differs slightly from a bill approved in the House in April.

President Barack Obama favors the Senate version.

 

18 Comments

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  • cecil822 Sep 24, 2013

    Did anyone else have a hard time understanding this article? Or maybe I'm just having a slow day today.

  • delilahk2000 Sep 24, 2013

    FUNNY SAME OLD STORY EVERY YEAR AT THIS SAME TIME...I JUST WON'T BUY THINGS WITH HELIUM....ANOTHER WAY TO PRICE GOUGE US...

  • ripetomatoes Sep 24, 2013

    "The Federal Helium Program, which provides about 42 percent of the nation's helium from a storage site near Amarillo, Texas, is set to shut down Oct. 7 unless lawmakers intervene."

    This has nothing to do with the extinction of the helium supply.

    This is a scare tactic concerning the possibility of government shutdown.

  • Vote for Pedro Sep 24, 2013

    Anyone with a semblance of an education already knows that the earths helium supply is severely limited and is expected to be totally depleted in the next 25-30 years. Earth only has a limited supply of helium, which is released as a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Essentially, pockets of the gas are disturbed during gas and oil drilling and rise to the surface. Helium floats right out of our world never to be seen again. It is an element, we can't " manufacture" it. When it is gone, it's gone.
    atheistswillrule

    Although there is a finite amount, when they extract natural gas there is a process in which the helium can be captured. After reading this article, I went and read several pieces of information on how it's captured and concentrated, very interesting read. Helium, in a liquid state is the coldest known substance to man, which makes it very efficient in process where things need to be cooled. They're not going to stop extracting natural gas in the next 25 years.

  • whatelseisnew Sep 24, 2013

    Oh well, now these places can know how I felt when the Government keeps forcing unnecessary change over of freon. It is simply another ripoff job of the middle class by the Feds as they take care of their buddies.

  • Pepe Silvia Sep 24, 2013

    "Don't buy balloons so it will not hurt me at all." - 678devilish

    Must be amazing to be in perfect health, that you'll leave this world never needing a single medical advancement that happened because of helium. Whats your secret, apple a day?

  • atheistswillrule Sep 24, 2013

    Anyone with a semblance of an education already knows that the earths helium supply is severely limited and is expected to be totally depleted in the next 25-30 years. Earth only has a limited supply of helium, which is released as a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Essentially, pockets of the gas are disturbed during gas and oil drilling and rise to the surface. Helium floats right out of our world never to be seen again. It is an element, we can't " manufacture" it. When it is gone, it's gone.

  • goldenosprey Sep 24, 2013

    Before we run out I'm going to strap myself to a thousand balloons and float over the arctic circle to hunt critically endangered birds.

    I blame the movie Up and violent video games for this assault on my freedoms.

  • Obamacare for everyone Sep 24, 2013

    So why is this guy trying to fly over the Atlantic in a lawn chair powered by Helium balloons if we have a shortage? Selfish much?

  • Obamacare for everyone Sep 24, 2013

    Helium, not just for inhaling anymore.

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