Though most Americans associate helium with balloons, a potential shortage of this critical element would mean more than just the loss of a popular party fixture – it would do real damage to our economy. That’s because helium has important applications in our everyday lives, with uses in arc welding, scientific research, microchip production, MRI scans, fire extinguishers, and tires. It is also used in nuclear reactors, space exploration, superconducting magnets….and yes, blimps and birthday parties. That’s why Senator Coons was proud to support legislation that passed the Senate on September 19th to ensure that a stable supply remains available for critical industrial, medical, and scientific activities dependent on the gas.
On October 2nd, President Obama signed the Helium Stewardship Act to guarantee the continued federal management of the nation’s helium reserves, located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The program was set to expire on October 7th. Chris is pleased that both the House and Senate were able to act in time to provide continued management of this critical resource.
The existing Federal Helium Reserve (FHR), managed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, stores 42 percent of the nation’s supply, about one-third of global helium reserves. The FHR is the world’s only helium gas stockpile, and is located just outside of Amarillo, Texas. The Helium Stewardship Act permits the BLM to continue to sell helium from the national reserve to the private sector, relieving Delaware’s many industrial, medical, and university users of the fear of a national helium shortage.
The Federal Helium Program was created in 1925 to secure supplies of a safer, non-combustible alternative to hydrogen for use in buoyant aircraft for the military. As further uses were discovered for the gas in the post-WWII period, the U.S. Government began to purchase helium and store it in an empty gas reserve in Texas. The stockpile of unrefined “crude” helium has been stored at the Bush Dome Reservoir in Amarillo, Texas since the establishment of the conservation program with the passage of the Helium Act Amendments of 1960. The FHR was established as part of the country’s cold war efforts, recognizing helium’s historic strategic importance in lighter-than-air aviation in the 1920’s. The FHR was intended to provide a ready supply of helium for the rapidly expanding needs of defense, the space program, and scientific research.