BY TOSHA LANCE –
Anyone who has tried to purchase party-balloons lately may have noticed that it’s becoming increasingly harder to find a retailer who has helium readily available. Thanks to a continent wide helium shortage, major suppliers have been forced to ration the gas, leaving more than just the balloon industry with a dilemma.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the Federal Helium Reserve that is located outside of Amarillo, Texas, helium is essential for the manufacturing of computer chips, optical fiber and medical lasers. It’s also needed for rocket engine testing, MRI machines, arc welding, air-to-air missile guidance and other civilian and military uses.
The Reserve supplies 42% of the United States’ demand for helium and 35 percent of the World’s helium demand. The BLM supplies crude helium to private helium refining companies, which refine the helium and market it to consumers. Distribution of refined helium is controlled by the private sector as authorized by Congress. Helium, which is most commonly extracted from natural gas, is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen. Although helium is abundant, it is not easily extracted from the atmosphere.
In September of 2013, Congress passed a bill that cancelled the closure of the Reserve, which was set for October 7th, 2013. The bill provides continuation of helium sales by auction until the reserve is gradually depleted. The U.S.Bureau of Land Management, Congress, private helium suppliers and scientists are focused on the future and new technologies for extracting and refining helium that might bring new sources of helium to the market and reduce further shortages.
The shortage has left many florists scrambling as they approach one of their biggest holidays on February 14. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, florists are looking for alternatives to helium filled balloons. According to one local florist, they are not letting the shortage run them ‘short’ on offering customers creative solutions to saying “I love you!” Shelton Bohlman of Janssen Avenue Florist and Gifts said they are working on using balloons in different and creative ways for the upcoming Valentine Holiday. “We will still offer a variety of balloons, along with flowers, candy, books, and stuffed animals,” said Bohlman. “We can deliver a variety of food baskets and any of the merchandise in our gift shop.”