Skip to comments.Not just Party City: Why helium shortages worry scientists and researchers
Posted on 05/18/2019 12:23:47 PM PDT by EdnaMode
This months announcement from Party City that its closing more than 40 stores as it grapples with new challenges, including diminishing helium supplies, likely came as unwelcome news to customers who count on the store for their balloon and event planning needs.
But for scientists like Mark Elsesser, the announcement was something of a relief, inflating hopes that the public, and the government, might start paying closer attention.
When it comes to helium, were at a tipping point, said Elsesser, who is the associate director of government affairs at the American Physical Society, a nonprofit association of physicists. Party City has made our job a little bit easier when it comes to getting helium on peoples radar. Helium is something we need to address.
Elsesser said news coverage related to Party City's difficulties in sourcing helium cast a long-overdue spotlight on an element thats often overlooked and underestimated.
Yes, helium is known for making you sound like a chipmunk and filling your balloons. But the lighter-than-air element has far weightier uses.
(Excerpt) Read more at nbcnews.com ...
According to the article, Helium is sourced from natural gas fields but few other details - Oh, and there is a discovery of a potential helium supply field in Tanzania not much information .
What? they didn’t blame Trump or global warming?
Every couple of years the MSM runs one of these “we’re running out of helium” stories.
At least when there’s a Republican in the Oval, they do.
Party City, isn’t that right next door to Spatula City.
Now we come to find out that it is a critical substance? Uh ... I don't think so.
Across the Food Court from Belt Buckle Universe and Corsets-R-Us.
National Helium Reserve - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Helium_Reserve The resulting "Helium Privatization Act of 1996" (Public Law 104273) directed the Department of the Interior to start selling off the reserve by 2005. By 2007, the federal government was reported as auctioning off the Amarillo Helium Plant.
Here's the Government Manual
The Helium harvested from natural gas wells is the result of radioactive decay in the Earth's crust. The alpha particles emitted in a number of steps in various decay chains, including Radon, are just helium nuclei. Helium seeping up through the cracks into chambers where natural gas is trapped is often found in gas wells for this reason.
The Clintons certainly paid a lot of attention to Tanzania.
The ONLY proven He fields are scattered below the TX Permian Basin hard rock layers with natural gas and oil.
But worse, Helium is the ONLY chemical that cannot be replaced: Once vented to the atmosphere as a gas, He rises to the top of the atmosphere naturally and irreversibly, (because, of course, it is lighter than air) and then diffuses to space.
Unlike Argon, Nitrogen, Hydrogen, Oxygen or even Krypton, the lost He cannot be recovered or replaced. It cannot be “manufactured” or chemically separated except in H-bombs and nuclear reactions.
It is gone.
Flaring off gas in ND doesn’t help.
Why don’t we have any H to He power plants operating yet?
They would provide a limitless supply of free He......
The problem is that Helium is a commodity, but it is managed by the US government - where have we heard this before. The US government Bureau of Land Management - where did I hear that name before - operates a thing called the National Helium Reserve and has historically set Helium prices at level required to repay the debt on building the facility. There are now moves to privatize this and in the process the NHR has in the last few years been auctioning off Helium in tranches. Prices have been rising. In the 2019 auction all tranches were bought by one purchaser thus creating a high priced private monopoly vs a low priced public monopoly.
It will take a number of years for this to settle out. The problem of course is that He production is largely from extraction from natural gas, but it must be extracted and stored, which is expensive - and at the old pre auction rate the price was too low to recover such costs.
With the government out of the business of setting the price for a commodity (remember Nixon, Carter price controls rationing and gas lines) there is some hope for some more reasonable stability as production investment, supply and demand are brought into some sort of alignment by the market process.
We shall just have to open up more Helium mines.
Helium is a product of radioactive decay of a number of different transuranic elements, an inert “noble” gas that is the second lightest of elements in the Universe (after monatomic hydrogen, which does not exist in natural form).
Helium is being formed all the time in the molten core of Earth, and is a major constituent of the mass of the sun and every star, as it is very much a part of the evolution of elements. In the hellish cauldron that is at the core of these many stars, it is a building block of the entire rest of the periodic table as the enormous pressures and heat press the protons at the nucleus of every atom close enough together they then fuse into a new larger, heavier nucleus.
Because of its very low molecular weight, once helium gets into the open atmosphere, it rises in the atmosphere until it escapes earth’s gravity altogether and is lost forever, scattering into otherwise empty space.
Every couple of years the MSM runs one of these were running out of helium stories.
It was a bad idea then and it still is a bad idea. It is really too expensive to filter it out of atmosphere.
Spot on comment. If you need a superconducting environment you need low temperature. Liquid helium is about it. At the university I work at we spent big bucks setting up recycling of the boil off. Looked like fools when He is cheap, but pretty prudent now.
Someone will probably talk peak helium but it actually may have merit in this case.
Exactly. See my post just above. Actually there was a difference between “selling off” and auctioning off. In the former, if the seller sets a price that is too low - as BLM did - then it drives out investment. More recently they have been auctioning it and prices have risen sharply because demand at the old price exceeded supply at the old price. People screaming “I can’t afford it” shows the market working, finally. Now maybe the market can create incentives to bring new supply on line.
were running out of helium
First time I ever heard of it was in an old MOTHER EARTH NEWS back around the early 1980s. Supposed to run out in 1990.
Helium is a vital product in low temperature research and manufacturing and is a critical component in nuclear reactor design and the production of nuclear weapons.
There was a great deal of concern throughout the 1980's that the recommendations made to the Reagan administration by the DoE were based on incorrect assumptions about [then] current supply.
As a graduate student working on experiments within a few micro-Kelvins of absolute zero at the time, I can tell you this is a crisis manufactured by stupid people at the DoE that should never have happened.
These same geniuses, by the way, shut down all but one of our facilities for refining fissile nuclear materials, substantially delaying our ability to modernize our nuclear arsenal.
The instant shortage is just one more example of government "experts" screwing the pooch.
At the Amarillo Helium Reserve, by 1995, a billion cubic metres of the gas had been collected, and the reserve was $1.4 billion in debt, prompting Congress to begin phasing out the reserve in 1996. The resulting “Helium Privatization Act of 1996” directed the Department of the Interior to start selling off the reserve by 2005.
By 2007, the federal government was reported as auctioning off the Amarillo Helium Plant. The National Helium Reserve itself was reported as “slowly being drawn down and sold to private industry.” However by early 2011, the facility was still in government hands. In May 2013, the House of Representatives voted to extend the life of the reserve under government control.
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