Helium Shortage Inflating Cost To Businesses


Timmins Flower Shop employee Denise Chiasson fills a balloon with helium.

If a worldwide shortage of helium continues very long, it could become difficult to be able to buy or sell balloons filled with it. The year-old supply problem goes back to reduced capacity to extract helium from natural gas, at only a handful of facilities around the globe. Timmins Flower Shop co-owner Christine Portelance says at one point, she did run out. “We try to keep two tanks in stock,” she tells My Timmins Now Dot Com, “but when there’s a shortage, the emergency departments at the hospital have priority over flower shops.” In a hospital setting, helium is used in MRI machines. The law of supply and demand means the cost has gone up, but it hasn’t been too bad for Portelance. “We try to stay pretty fair and we… incur the cost.”

Read more

Posted in Helium shortage | Comments Off on Helium Shortage Inflating Cost To Businesses

‘The Cost Has Gone Up’: Worldwide Helium Shortage Impacting Party Stores

If you have an upcoming celebration and are hoping to visit a party store soon to buy balloons, you may feel a little deflated to learn some are out of helium. A worldwide helium shortage is forcing businesses to explain to customers why the gas is not available. The reason why there is a shortage is long and complicated. The short answer is helium cannot be manufactured and the global supply is down. The helium shortage is really impacting mom and pop party stores.David Cattai, of Dino’s Party Center on 9th Street in South Philadelphia, has been running the store for almost four decades, but he says a helium shortage is sucking a lot of the air and money out of his store. “What’s happening is the supply, locally, isn’t there,” said Cattai. The shortage is causing the price of helium tanks to skyrocket, and that has inflated what he charges customers. Filling one helium balloon at Dino’s Party Center now stands at $2, so some people are turning away from them. “The cost has gone up so people are trying to say, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna spend that money on balloons. It’s just balloons,’” said Cattai. Cattai’s store isn’t the only one impacted in the Philadelphia area. The Dollar Tree on City Line Avenue had a sign that said the store is out of helium. Many stores are hoping the helium shortage ends but that’s not happening any time soon.

Read more

Posted in Helium shortage | Comments Off on ‘The Cost Has Gone Up’: Worldwide Helium Shortage Impacting Party Stores

Helium Shortage Is Sucking The Air Out Of Balloon Stores’ Business

Businesses say not enough helium to fill demand

Thinking about visiting a party store to pick up helium balloons for a birthday or anniversary celebration? You might leave a little deflated. Helium is in short supply worldwide, forcing merchants to explain to puzzled customers that the lighter-than-air gas is not available. “The public does not know about the shortage at all,” said Jenna Gonsalves, whose family owns Dana’s Event Boutique & Florist in the Castro Valley Shopping Center. “They just don’t believe it.” As recently as early December, the store would have three helium tanks on hand, enough to fill roughly 500 balloons. But by New Year’s Eve the shop couldn’t meet the demand for inflated balloons, Gonsalves said, adding that “people were freaking out.” Today the business has only one tank. Unlike hydrogen, helium cannot be manufactured and can only be found deep underground. It’s also not renewable. The last big shortage that left balloon stores scrambling happened in 2012, the result of maintenance issues at helium plants in Qatar, Algeria and Australia. That took the steam off the Fremont Fourth of July parade, grounding a 50-foot, bird-shaped balloon that was to have towered over the parade route. Much of the U.S. supply comes through a U.S. Bureau of Land Management facility near Amarillo, Texas. In 1996, Congress required the bureau to sell off its helium reserves and close the facility in 2013, which has contributed to the dwindling amount available, although the deadline was extended to September 2021. The goal of lawmakers was to get the government out of the industry and let private companies take over. “It’s a supply-and-demand issue,” said Jim Hermetet of American Gas Products, a company in Everett, Mass., that distributes helium and carbon dioxide throughout the United States. The need for helium in the space and medical industries is fueling the spike in demand, Hermetet said. The shortage likely will continue for at least three years, he said, when a plant is expected to open in Russia to help boost international availability. “There’s plenty of helium in the ground,” Hermetet said. “It’s just getting it out. That’s the problem.” Party City, a national chain with outlets in Richmond, Alameda, Union City, San Jose and other Bay Area locations, has put customers on notice that balloon orders may not get filled at some stores. ​”Currently, helium supply is very low while demand is growing,” the company said on its website, recommending people consider other options, such as using latex balloons filled with air. Customers can still purchase helium tanks and balloons online from Party City, however. Prices range from $44.99 to $70.99, not including tax or shipping. While balloons are perhaps the most popular use of helium, the colorless and odorless gas is also used in other ways, including in MRIs and imaging technology, as well as in lasers and scuba diving tanks. The shortage has left Hassen Almaweri, the owner of the Bay Party Store on MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland, especially frustrated. “If I don’t get helium, I will be out of business,” Almaweri said, adding that inflated balloons are the most popular items sold at his shop. Because of the shortage, helium prices have shot up. Tanks with up to 250 cubic feet of gas that a few months ago cost $100 can now run up to $400, Almaweri said. “Even if you can get a tank, you are not going to make any money,” he said. During peak times, such as Mother’s Day or graduation season, he likes to have six or seven tanks in the store to fill balloons. “Now you might only have one,” Almaweri said.

CASTRO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 29: Aires Gonsalves, left, and his daughter Jenna talk each other as sign of shortage of helium is displayed at the entrance of their family owned business Dana’s Event Boutique and Florist in Castro Valley, Calif., on Friday, March 29, 2019. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Read more

Posted in Helium exploration, Helium production | Comments Off on Helium Shortage Is Sucking The Air Out Of Balloon Stores’ Business

Fracking in Arizona Could Lead To The Next Helium Boom

Trump’s “energy dominance” policy threatens Petrified Forest National Park

The high desert of northern Arizona was once a tropical forest, home to large animals with sharp teeth—crocodilians, small dinosaurs, and reptiles. Freshwater sharks swam in the streams. Trees fell, animals died off, and the whole mess fossilized in layers of primordial muck. Millions of years later, the desert heaved up petrified logs, sharks teeth, and bones. We know this area today as Petrified Forest National Park—a place where tourists can hike and take in sweeping views of the Painted Desert. Conservationists say those views could be spoiled by a new feature on the landscape: gas wells. A Bureau of Land Management policy change allows the agency to approve gas drilling with very little public input. Some fear that fracking is just around the corner and that local water supplies are in jeopardy. But there’s another resource attracting companies here that are looking to turn a profit: helium, a rare byproduct of natural gas extraction. With the price of helium going up and the Trump administration trying to jump-start drilling on public lands, that threat is not likely to go away. Documents on file with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality show that one company, Ranger Development, has receieved well stimulation permits for just outside the park. Helium is not just something you put in balloons. It is also used in magnetic resonance imaging, semiconductors, nuclear reactors, scuba diving, fiber-optic telecommunications, space propulsion, and scientific research. Helium is so light that gravity won’t hold it to the planet; any time helium is released and not captured at the source, it’s gone. About 40 percent of the nation’s supply of helium comes from a government helium reserve near Amarillo, Texas. In 1996, Congress voted to phase out the reserve and turn the helium market over to the private sector. Twenty years later, researchers issued a report that said the price of helium had jumped by 250 percent since 2009. Those marketplace dynamics could be bad news for Petrified Forest National Park. In the late 1800s, extractors blasted away at the forest’s petrified wood and shipped it on freight trains; tourists would commonly pocket whatever they found. President Theodore Roosevelt created a monument in 1906 to preserve some of these natural treasures. Cattle ranchers settled outside the monument, turning their herds loose on a checkerboard of federal, state, and private lands, also rich in fossils. The monument became a park in 1962. Still, the remote nature of these badlands and windswept flats made it easy for souvenir hunters to haul away bits of petrified wood and plunder archaeological sites outside park borders. In 2004, Congress voted to expand Petrified Forest to help preserve the region’s fossils and other resources. Since then, the park has secured 15,228 acres from the BLM and another 37,770 acres from local ranchers in deals largely financed by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As the park surveyed the new lands and made its purchases, it did not buy mineral rights. “They thought they had no value. When they did their analysis, this was before anybody ever thought of helium,” said Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association. As the park negotiated with local ranchers and the state, potash-mining companies snapped up mineral leases, promising jobs to local communities and royalties to the state. The expansion stalled. One, Passport Potash, held leases to lands within the park expansion for years. Dahl said the companies were created to sell penny stock until someone bought them out. But potash is not rare. Big players, who would not talk on the record, had plenty of potash and showed no interest in coming to Arizona, where it would take $1 billion in start-up costs to dig. The price of potash fell. The small companies lost interest or went bankrupt. About the time the potash companies had faded into memory, Donald Trump was elected president. The BLM began to streamline the process of leasing public lands for oil and gas drilling. Companies took advantage of the policy change to snap up leases throughout the West. As conservationists began to look into a couple of proposed Arizona gas leases, they were alarmed to find that some companies were already drilling exploratory helium wells. “There have been helium exploratory wells the last couple years; we just didn’t know about it,” Dahl said. “And then when you looked around, you said, ‘Wow.’ ” A proposal by Rare Earth Exploration would drop a well inside the park. That project will go through some type of environmental review; exactly what kind won’t be clear until the developer brings a more detailed proposal. But projects outside the park could sidestep environmental review, said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. Aquifer protection permits on file with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have authorized “stimulation campaigns” for up to 80 helium-well permits near Chambers, Arizona. In other words: fracking. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of using pressure to dissolve the bonding between layers of rock in order to free up the natural gas held within. Geologists say that fracking can be done with water, air, or sand. But it can also be done with acid, chemicals, or any combination of these materials. A growing body of evidence suggests that such materials can pollute groundwater. Fracking has generated a number of lawsuits, but most of them are sealed, said Kevin Gibson, a spokesman for No Frack AZ. “There is no such thing as a perfectly safe mining operation,” Gibson, a retired mining engineer who lives in eastern Arizona, said. “Mining’s always been about risk and return. You can’t have a modern society without mining.” But he points out that the risks of an acid stimulation campaign, in a region with very little water, are not worth the reward. In the summer of 2018, the BLM offered up leases near the community of Woodruff, located along the Little Colorado River. Local residents expressed concern over how quickly the companies have moved in and the impacts these operations could have on local water supplies. “Obviously we’re very concerned about this. In a state like Arizona, where water is precious, just the idea of fracking raises alarm bells,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club. Lisa Test, a mother of four who helped form No Fracking AZ in her spare time, said they barely got their protest to the BLM on time. “They said you can either send it certified mail or fax it, and their fax machine was down, so we had to overnight it to the BLM in Phoenix,” she said. Community members have a lot of questions, including one in particular: What’s the hurry? “We have these ADEQ permits that authorize acid fracking. We have no federal review. . . . This is all happening in a black box, and there are enormous values at risk,” McKinnon said. “If they screw up the groundwater out there, they’ll never be forgiven.” Drilling could also have noise and light impacts in the park, Dahl pointed out, as well as visual impact of wells in and out of the park. The wells would be part of the vistas seen at scenic overlooks. “The Petrified Forest is known for its views of the Painted Desert, these remarkable geological formations,” he said. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity and more than a dozen other groups, including the Sierra Club, protested the BLM leasing plans in July. The BLM has ruled against the protest. “The next step would be federal litigation,” McKinnon said. “And we have certainly not ruled that out. The BLM and the Trump administration have made a mockery of the National Environmental Policy Act and its principles of public participation and environmental prudence.”

Read more

Posted in Helium exploration, Helium production | Comments Off on Fracking in Arizona Could Lead To The Next Helium Boom

Helium Shortage Affects Getting Balloons And More: What You Need To Know

Despite popular belief, helium is used for more than inhaling to make that temporary squeaky voice. Places where you’d normally get a bouquet of balloons are taking a hit because of a nationwide helium shortage.

Where does helium come from?

While helium makes balloons float into the air, the gas is taken from out of the ground. Don’t worry, you’re not constantly walking over helium. It can only be extracted from select places. So, when the supply is low in those few spots and the demand is high, a shortage can follow.

Places affected

On Party City’s website, there’s a disclaimer about the helium shortage and how it could affect supplies and orders. A Dollar Tree in York isn’t limiting the number of balloons you can get with the few tanks that they have. But they aren’t taking any future orders since there’s no telling when the shortage will let up. Even welding companies such as the Airgas store in central Pennsylvania is currently pausing their intake of helium customers. Helium is also used in the medical field and some aspects of engineering, so the shortage is affecting more than just local businesses.

Other balloon options
If you still have your heart set on balloons, air-filled balloons, twisted balloons, and balloon garlands do not need helium, according to Party City’s website.

Read more

Posted in Helium shortage | Comments Off on Helium Shortage Affects Getting Balloons And More: What You Need To Know