New law could shore up US helium supply

July 26, 2017, American Chemical Society

Helium is essential for MRIs, the fiber optics that deliver images to our TVs, scientific research and of course, party balloons. In the past decade, helium prices have sky-rocketed due to supply shortages. But if small updates are made to an old law, the U.S. could boost its domestic helium output and help keep critical medical tests and electronics running, reports Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.

Senior C&EN Correspondent Marc S. Reisch explains that the rise in prices is partly due to an uncertain market that is plagued by geopolitical disputes. For example, the recent Qatar blockade temporarily stopped helium shipments from that country, a major producer. Sales from the U.S. reserves help counter some of the instability, but the government plans to stop dipping into the stockpile. Additionally, restrictions on how helium can be extracted have caused its production in the U.S. to stall.

As a result, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy & Mineral Resources held a hearing in June on the newly proposed Helium Extraction Act of 2017. This bill would update the nearly 100-year-old Mineral Leasing Act to allow operators to lease and drill on federal land for the sole purpose of extracting the element. Currently, they can only recover helium when drilling for oil and gas. While this change would not immediately solve helium shortages because it takes years to establish a well, industry experts say it would be a step in the right direction.

Explore further: Global helium supplies balloon

More information: "More helium is on the way," cen.acs.org/articles/95/i30/helium-way.html

Related Stories

US Congress acts to avert helium shortage

September 26, 2013

The US Congress, entrenched in a titanic budget battle, managed to come together Thursday to pass legislation that prevents a market shortage of helium.

Probing Question: Are we running out of helium?

April 26, 2013

Party planners, take note: the atmosphere may become a little deflated at gala events in the future. Some scientists are sounding the alarm about the wastefulness of using helium—a rare, non-renewable gas—to fill party ...

Recommended for you

Engineers test drug transfer using placenta-on-a-chip

February 16, 2018

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Science have demonstrated the feasibility of their "organ-on-a-chip" platform in studying how drugs are transported across the human placental ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.