Wednesday, April 23 2014, 09:23 AM MDT
Helium Shortage Hits Utah
By Matt Gephardt
(KUTV) Wednesday, customers at the Zurcher's party story in Salt Lake City were greeted by a sign. It says that due to a national helium shortage there will be a limit on the number of balloons they can fill. But people looking for helium filled balloons this day are better off than customers the Saturday before when the store was completely out of the gas.
"Towards the end of the week we do start to run out of helium," said Zurcher’s manager Lane Monty.
In fact, Monty says that most of this week’s helium tanks in the stock room are already empty. She doubts the supply will last through the weekend. It's a problem that Monty says she first began noticing over the summer.
“It started to affect us like June,” she said.
The lack of helium is not something about which Zurcher’s can do anything.
We get helium as a byproduct from drilling natural gas and most of it comes from helium rich wells in Texas according to University of Utah chemistry professor Jeffery Statler.
In the 90's, Congress decided to get out of the helium business and offered the wells up to private companies. Congress also passed a law declaring the government will be out of the helium business by 2015.
But according to a June article in Popular Mechanic magazine, "Private industry hasn't been as interested in producing helium as congress hoped. Until more companies begin producing helium on their own, consumers are left with spiking prices and tightening supplies."
The Bureau of Land Management sets the price of helium, which announced the price will spike in 2013.
Helium is used for a lot more than just balloons or making your voice sound weird. It's used in welding, hospital M.R.I. machines and even to cool nuclear reactors.
The good news for those seeking party balloons in the near future is that in the coming months, helium production is expected to increase. Monty says Zurcher’s supplier is telling her to expect to see more gas by the busy New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The bad news, according to Statler, is helium can't be created. What we have on the planet now is all we got and at its current rate of usage, it could be gone for good in the next 20 or 30 years. Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, but it will take a trip to the sun to get more.
(Copyright 2012 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)