Helium shortage drives up balloon in time for Valentine's Day

Tools

by Becky Mortensen
by Michael Schlesinger

Waukesha--Looks like a helium shortage may take the air out of some of your Valentine's Day gift giving.

Zach Bartz of Bartz Party Stores is feeling a little deflated himself. He's watched his sales of helium balloons drop in the last year. He says his company is paying more, about 30%, to supply it.  However, much of this cost is being absorbed from within so the customer doesn’t notice it.   

A global helium shortage has turned one of the most abundant elements into a hard to get, hard to hold commodity. Not just for him, but his customers too. Experts say there are many reasons for the limited supply. Helium is a byproduct of natural gas and with its fall in price, there's less incentive for many overseas companies to produce. Also, it seems growing demand has been strained by production problems worldwide. 

About a third of the world's helium supply comes from the southern and central Plains. At least ten-billion cubic feet of the odorless gas, enough to fill tens of thousands of good year blimps, can be found there, stored in underground wells. The federal government  plays a big part in setting global prices and supplying sales to private refineries and plants. But, its role appears to be dwindling, perhaps paving the way for more of a free market enterprise.

There is a more serious side to helium. It's actually used in x-rays, computer chips, and even in some bomb making devices. 

 

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