News from around the state of Texas

Senate Passes Bill to Avert Helium Shortage

View Comments ()
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Shutterstock, Vladru

    Break out the balloons.

    Congress moved a step closer Thursday to averting an impending shutdown of the federal helium reserve, a key supplier of the lighter-than-air gas used in a products ranging from party balloons to MRI machines.

    Helium Shortage Affecting More than Just Balloons

    [LA] Helium Shortage Affecting More than Just  Balloons
    A helium shortage nationwide affects more than just party balloon suppliers -- who, like Shawn Agheassi, owner of Elegant Balloon in Studio City, are definitely suffering. But medical equipment manufacturers and electronics-makers are threatened by the dwindling supply as well. Michelle Valles reports for the NCB4 News at 5 p.m on May 25, 2012. (Published Friday, May 25, 2012)

    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. Closing the reserve would cause a worldwide helium shortage -- an outcome lawmakers from both parties hope to avoid.

    Helium Shortage Not Good for Party Suppliers

    [PHI] Helium Shortage Not Good for Party Suppliers
    A helium shortage is forcing some party supply stores to turn customers away, but why is there is a scarcity of helium? NBC10's Dawn Timmeney explains. (Published Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012)

    The Senate approved a bill Thursday, 97-2, to continue the helium program, following action in the House this spring.

    Preserving access to the federal helium supply "prevents a shock to the health care sector and other critical industries that depend on helium," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said. "Protecting America's manufacturing base, its research capabilities, its health care system and its national security by temporarily extending the life of the (federal) helium program is just common sense."

    Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said thousands of high-tech manufacturing jobs in the United States depend on a reliable supply of helium.

    If the federal government stops selling helium to private entities, "a significant delay might not just slow the production of computer chips, but the computers, life-saving medical devices and weapons systems that they power," Simpson said.

    Micron Technology, a Boise-based semiconductor manufacturer, is among companies that depend on helium, Simpson said. The computer chip industry employs a quarter-million people nationwide, Simpson said.

    The Senate bill approved Thursday differs slightly from a bill approved in the House in April. President Barack Obama favors the Senate version.

    A statement by the White House called helium an essential resource for the aerospace industry and production of computer chips and optical fiber, as well as medical uses including MRI machines and medical lasers. Helium also is used in national defense applications such as rocket engine testing and purging, surveillance devices and scientific balloons.

    "The impending abrupt shutdown of this program would cause a spike in helium prices that would harm many U.S. industries and disrupt national security programs,"' the White House said.