Saving Helium: Something Lawmakers Actually Agree On

Congress: Keeping balloon Hello Kitty alive since 2013.<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-80276p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">gary718</a>/Shutterstock

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


The world is facing a helium crisis. Helium is a finite and rapidly diminishing resource, one we could run out of in the next 25 years. And here we’ve been blowing up giant Snoopy balloons and making ourselves sound like pre-pubescent boys for all these years.

The shortage is causing helium prices to, well, balloon. And apparently it’s all Congress’ fault:

Scientists have warned that the world’s most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle.

The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.

But now the House of Representatives—in a rare bipartisan effort—is trying to change that. On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Rush Holt (N.J.) and Republican Reps. Doc Hastings (Wash.) and Bill Flores (Texas) announced that they are working together on the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act. The bill would change how the Helium Reserve, which provides half of all helium used in the United States and a third of the helium used all over the world, works and extend its life beyond 2015. It would auction off most of the helium in the reserve at market value (which will be determined by the Secretary of Interior), instead of selling it at cut rates. It will also require that we keep the last 3 billion cubic feet of helium in the reserve for use for research purposes.

Helium isn’t just necessary for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as the lawmakers point out. It’s also used in computer chips, MRI scans, fiberoptic cables, and NASA’s rockets.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate