Issue Date: October 7, 2013 | Web Date: October 3, 2013
Federal Helium Reserve Remains Open
A helium crisis was averted last week when President Barack Obama signed a bill to allow the Federal Helium Reserve to continue operating.
The Texas-based reserve supplies 42% of the helium used in the U.S. and 30% worldwide. Without congressional intervention, a 1996 law would require the facility to close on Oct. 7.
Chemical producers, federal and academic helium users, and industries that rely on helium, such as manufacturers of semiconductors and nuclear magnetic resonance instruments, lobbied Congress for several years to prevent a shutdown of the reserve. Observers argued that a shutdown would have thrown world helium markets into a tailspin, exacerbating ongoing shortages and causing a price spike.
The bill (H.R. 354) came out of a last-minute compromise between the House of Representatives and the Senate. It requires the Bureau of Land Management, which operates the reserve, to start auctioning off its remaining 10 billion-cu-ft helium supply starting in 2015. The auction will continue until 3 billion cu ft is left for federal purposes.
“I am both elated and relieved that Congress has gotten this done,” says Michael S. Turner, president of the American Physical Society, echoing the sentiments of many academic researchers who use helium.
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
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