Will Balloon Business Deflate?

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Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, but scarce on Earth. The U.S. Reserve was protected from continuation of sell-off with a 11/2/2023 court decision.

News of Party City selling off its assets, including Anagram the largest supplier of foil balloons, might create short-term shortages for the consumer industry. However, the greater threat concerning helium usage and access is the transfer of the Federal Helium reserve to private parties who might be foreign owned and not favorable to protecting America's technology dependence.

The current status of Helium is actually self-inflicted by the legislation in 1996 and the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013

  • After government sales flooded the market with cheap helium & the private sector shut down the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 mandated higher prices
  • Auctions were conducted so only 3 billion cubic feet were remaining, as legislated, by October 1, 2018
  • A September, 30, 2021 deadline was established for sale of the reserve.
  • The Bureau of Land Management transferred it to the General Services Administration (GSA) as surplus property
  • A 2022 auction failed to finalize a sale.
  • June 22, 2023, the GSA announced a new auction of the facilities and remaining helium.
  • The auction of the last helium assets is due to take place in November, 2023.
  • The United States experienced four helium shortages from 2006 to 2023, with the latest caused by the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Details related to the sale of the Federal Helium System can be found at the GSA Property Sales site.

On September 7, 2023 a lawsuit was filed to prevent the federal government from continuing with the sale of the helium system. On November 2, 2023, the Court issued a decision. The operation of the federal helium system or delivery of helium continues as usual. Federal Helium System at Cliffside | GSA

Helium is typically a by-product of natural gas production. The United States produces about 75 percent of the world's helium, with Qatar coming in second.

Two aspects of helium access affect the public.  The older and more visible but less necessary is consumer balloon use which has grown from basic shapes in an assortment of colors to various materials, shapes, sizes, and even augmenting other gift and holiday business ventures.  

Helium is vitally important because it is a nonrenewable resource that is extracted from natural gas.  It was the Helium Acts Amendments of 1960 (Public Law 86–777) which the U.S. Bureau of Mines arranged for five private plants to recover helium from natural gas.  The U.S. government, from 1960 to 1973,  pumped 32 billion cubic feet of the gas into a natural rock chamber under a Texas field. 

The Federal Helium Reserve comprises nearly 500 miles of pipeline — stretching from Amarillo, Texas, to the panhandle of Oklahoma to Kansas.  

  • Federal Helium Reserve 
  • Cliffside Field,
  • Federal Helium Pipeline, and
  • All other infrastructure owned, leased, or managed under contract by the Secretary of the Interior for the storage, transportation, withdrawal, enrichment, purification, or management of helium.

  Congress established a 25-year plan, in 1996, to sell off the Helium reserve, as a small and maybe even retaliatory response to the call to "shrink government", after the accumulation of helium resulted in a 1.3billion dollar deficit.

Technology in 1996 was accelerating its dependence on helium, therefore the lack of foresight is creating repercussions today for 

  • Medical & Diagnostic equipment such as MRI’s which utilize large magnets requiring very low temperatures to work. Liquid helium, at about -450 degrees Fahrenheit is used as a super coolant.  
  • National defense 
    • Rocket engine testing -pressurizes the fuel tanks 
    • Scientific balloons
    • Surveillance craft
    • Air-to-air missile guidance systems 
    • During World War II, the U.S. government used helium to lift blimps because, unlike hydrogen, it isn’t flammable.
  • Airbags (!) - Helium & argon gas are used in combination to inflate airbags of newer cars
  • Fiber optic manufacturing -"One of the main functions helium provides is being able to cool things down quickly.  Fiber optics require an all-helium environment to prevent air bubbles from being trapped in the delicate fibers. Helium Used for Internet Access (Fiber Optics) - Summit Source Funding | Helium Investing
    • Internet of Things  IoT The network of interconnected devices that communicate with each other and their users through the internet    

Helium prices have risen 160 per cent since 2017, due to supply shortages & increasing global demands. 

Canada has the fifth largest helium resources, with Saskatchewan having the largest underground reserves.  Largest helium facility in Canada opens in Saskatchewan | Globalnews.ca


Helium: An Abundant History and a Shortage Threatening Scientific Tools – Biomedical Beat Blog – National Institute of General Medical Sciences (nih.gov)

Using spectroscopes in 1868 both French astronomer Pierre Janssen and English scientist Joseph Norman Lockyer were, independently, the first to observe helium.  

Italian physicist Luigi Palmieri reported seeing the helium wavelength while analyzing lava from Mount Vesuvius, in 1882.

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