Helium Shortage Reaches Critical Level

The world’s supply of helium is quickly diminishing, and one local expert says that means changes to birthday celebrations. Wayne Barker, of Norco in Bend, says helium is, essentially, a non-renewable resource. It is a byproduct of natural radioactive decay that takes several thousands of years to produce. Barker says the main sources of helium are found in the United States, Qatar, and Azerbaijan, “The U.S. reserves are gone, and now what we’re left with is trying to deal with a global market in a couple of places that are, for whatever reasons, unstable.” And, he tells KBND News, with a limited supply comes a need to prioritize. Helium must be used for medical gasses and liquids, laboratory research and welding, which leaves little left for personal and commercial helium tanks, “Everybody is faced with the same allocations, so people are just going to have to be strategic in their use of it. Like any other supply, eventually when the price gets high enough, people will go out there and find ways to refine it out of the natural gas sources that are there today, but it’s just never going to be as cheap as it was; we’re never going to see those days again.” He adds, “You’re not going to see balloons flying over the cars at the car lot. You’re not going to see Johnny’s birthday party with 50 balloons. And if Johnny can find a balloon, that one balloon might cost $50.” This happened a few years ago, too, and helium had to be reserved for high-priority needs. But, this time, he says, is different, and likely longer-lasting, “It’s going to be expensive. You’re not going to see balloons flying over any parties. We’ll be saving it for chilling magnets for MRIs or the welding process, medical gasses, those are going to be our priorities.”

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