Why there’s a shortage
Updated: July 29, 2012 4:42PM
Questions about the helium shortage have been raised as early as 2006. Nuclear fusion from the sun and other stars produce helium. On Earth, helium occurs underground from the decay of radioactive minerals. The majority of known deposits of helium are in the Great Plains and western United States.
The chemical element is unique because it is lighter than air and has the lowest known boiling and melting points. During World War I, helium was used as an alternative to hydrogen to lift zeppelins used for aerial observation. Wanting to preserve its helium supply for defense and research, the United States built the Federal Helium Reserve near Amarillo, Texas and a pipeline to transport it.
But in 1996, the government decided to get out of the helium supply business, so it began to sell off its reserves at a set unit price, which was has never been adjusted for inflation. Consequently, experts argue the price is too low, considering how the uses and demand for helium have grown. The low price also discourages companies from exploring other ways and places to extract helium.
— Kimberly Fornek