November 9, 2012

If you’ve visited our Lincoln Park or Loop office, you may have noticed the sign that says “Out of helium until further notice.” Why is that? The popular reason is that there is a helium shortage. I thought this was a joke when I first heard it in the spring. Unfortunately, the price for helium tanks has gone up. Since the spring, the I’ve noticed this helium shortage hasn’t been widely publicized. I decided to do some research on this. Apparently, this shortage should only be temporary.

In an article from the Columbus Dispatch, a tank of helium that cost $68 last September now costs $186.50 in 2012. Florists and party stores are also finding themselves in a tight situation trying to afford the giant price increase. However, these aren’t the only industries affected. Did you know helium is also used (in liquid form) in hospitals to cool big medical machines like MRIs? Manufacturers also use it to prevent devices from over-heating.

So, why the shortage? In a Forbes article, Tim Worstall explains:

A pipeline in Texas which provided 30 per cent of the global supply was closed for maintenance in July, with a major Wyoming plant running below capacity since June.

Production shortfalls and repairs at plants in Algeria, Poland and Australia have also hit supplies.

I am uncertain when the repairs at these plants will be completed, but there is no need to panic. The US Geological Survey estimates that we use about 180 million cubic metres a year. That sounds like a lot, but when you compare it to the estimated supply of 50 billion cubic metres, we should be in good shape.


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