National Helium Reserve Faces Shutdown06:47
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(Bureau of Land Management)
(Bureau of Land Management)

The National Helium Reserve is facing shutdown. The giant well of crude helium provides more than one-third of the world's crude helium.

"It's not a cave, it's layers of rock, and the helium is stored in one layer of the rock," Sam Burton, assistant field manager of helium operations at the Bureau of Land Management, told Here & Now.

The reserve isn't just for nationally important party balloons. Helium is used in MRIs, computer chips and fiber-optic cable.

With a global shortage of helium that's been dragging on for the past few years, the federal reserve has become more important.

The government has been storing helium since 1929, but since 1996 it has been trying to get out of the crude helium business.

If Congress doesn't take action, the small facility in Amarillo, Texas, that runs the reserve could start winding down its operations in mid-September, and be shut down by early October.

Guest

  • Sam Burton, assistant field manager of helium operations for the Amarillo field office of the Bureau of Land Management.

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Wall Street Journal "Industry officials have dubbed it the 'helium cliff,' a play on the year-end 'fiscal cliff' deadline that Congress had to navigate last year to avoid broad tax increases. 'The shortages we're experiencing today will be much worse' if the government program ended abruptly, said Walter Nelson, an executive at Air Products and Chemicals Inc."

Washington Post "This looming funding cutoff has nothing to do with sequestration, the across-the-board set of reductions that have hit the rest of the federal government. But the BLM is taking lessons from Congress’ seeming inability to accomplish basic tasks, and worrying a lot about alternatives in the event that the Senate doesn’t pass its bill by the end of September."

This segment aired on August 20, 2013.

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