Global helium shortage affecting medical and aerospace industries as well

There’s a global helium shortage and it’s affecting not just party supply stores, but everything from aerospace to the medical field.

Right now, only three sources product about 75 percent of the world’s helium: They’re in Qatar, Texas and Wyoming. In 2018, about 79 percent of helium used came from Qatar while 21 percent came from other sources, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Helium, which is a naturally occurring gas, is extracted from the ground and usually comes mixed with other gases — natural gas in particular. The natural gas in Utah, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming is richer in helium than in other states, which is why there are extraction plants in those areas, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

The Bureau of Land Management operates and maintains a helium storage reservoir, enrichment plant and pipeline system near Amarillo, Texas. It supplies more than 40 percent of domestic demand for the element.

The USGS report also noted that 14 plants in the United States provided about 1.4 billion cubic feet of helium for domestic use, with about 30 percent of that helium being used for MRIs. Helium is also used for weather and research balloons, welding, fiber optics, leak detection and defense, aerospace and energy programs.

But despite the importance of helium, the U.S. will stop distributing it by 2021, according to the bureau. The Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 established an auction system for the sale of the country’s federally owned helium along with all of the accompanying property and equipment. It has to be disposed of by Sept. 30, 2021.

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