Scientists and doctors face a shortage of helium, so private companies can make extra profit from government owned helium.

In the United States, supplies come from the reserve, which is run by the Bureau of Land Management. The reserve supplies about 30 percent of the world's helium and 42 percent of the domestic market, and the helium is collected in an underground reservoir in a 1,000-acre Crude Helium Enrichment Unit north of Amarillo, Texas.

The reservoir, known as the Bush Dome,...

The helium shortage,... could have a ... serious impact because of its importance to industries such as health care, biotechnology, defense, scientific research and water manufacturing.

Increase in global demand as well as shutdowns and outages at helium-producing plants that supply two-thirds of the world's supply have contributed to the shortage.

Private companies pay a price set by the government to buy the crude helium, which is then processed to be sold for commercial use.

"The government doesn't want to be in that business, but we can't control how private companies set up their contracts," Burton said. "That is unintended consequence of the (Helium Privatization) Act."

Burton said the bureau is scheduled to pay off the debt by next year. After the agency relinquishes its role as overseer, there would still be about $1.3 billion worth of helium underground, Burton said.

...four companies with direct access to the crude helium reserves have created a monopoly and distorted the market. "Taken together, the restricted access to the resource and the manufactured price have created a situation where a substantial portion of taxpayer-owned helium is being sold overseas at a significant profit while our domestic end-user community is suffering from supply shortages,"...

The critical shortage has far-reaching effects in various industries, said Michael Shaw, chairman of the physics department at California Lutheran University. Liquid helium is used to cool magnets in MRI equipment and to make fiber-optic cables and semiconductors. Gaseous helium is used in angioplasties. In scientific research, liquid helium is used in physics applications and in superconductivity. Helium is used as a shielding gas in welding.

"The real message is that there is a real crisis that is about to be upon us for many industries," Shaw said. "If a scientist has a certain budget and helium prices increase, suddenly something else in the budget has to be cut. Either you do less research, or the research that you do will cost much more." [emphasis mine]

Helium shortage affecting industries locally and worldwide

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Replies to This Discussion

Burton said. "That is unintended consequence of the (Helium Privatization) Act." B/S.

...four companies with direct access to the crude helium reserves have created a monopoly and distorted the market. 

That is Exactly the intent of privatizing the Helium market and every other market.

One wonders if those four companies or their lobbyists were involved with actually writing the legislation. That's common practice for our unelected corporate government.

What a great idea: Let's privatize our natural resources so they can be profitably sold overseas by multinational corporations, thus creating a shortage in this country
I became intrigued to find detailed information about the laws, politics & moneyed interests that have brought us to this current helium shortage. It turns out to have been more complicated, and to me intriguing, than the BLM source in the original post indicated. The research led me on a trail that begins in 1960 to 2012.
I'm going to post what I learned in a series of posts that will eventually read from top to bottom in order from most relevant and important to understand causes of the current helium shortage to least relevant-but still interesting for many members of this group. Unfortunately, in order to have my posts eventually begin at the top with the most relevant information I need to post them in the opposite order from least to most relevant/important. Please bear with me.
Oops, posts here are already displayed from oldest at the top to most recent at the bottom. So instead I'll post more logically from most directly addressing laws affecting the current to more indirect connections. Before I start that, here is a link to a report published in February 2012 on the problems because of "censorship of scientists and the manipulation, distortion, and suppression of scientific information [that] have threatened federal science in recent years."

"Heads they Win, Tails we Lose; How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense"

It offers specific examples in 5 kinds of corporate abuses of science and government: Corrupting the science, Shaping public perceptions, Curbing the effectiveness of federal agencies, Influencing Congress and Exploiting judicial pathways. The report next lays out the history of things which have been done in the past 3 years, crediting presidential leadership in this effort. Finally, it offers a plan for the next 4 years that would focus on "essential federal reforms" and "private-sector reforms."

The report was published by the Scientific Integrity Project of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

You can download a pdf version the 47 page report for free at

I made my summary based on information at that site and the text of the report I downloaded. The cite for the text is




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