The Weird Story Of Why Helium Prices Are Going Through The Roof | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

The Weird Story Of Why Helium Prices Are Going Through The Roof

Play associated audio

For More: Pork, Helium, Maple Syrup: Our Favorite Strategic Reserves

Back in the 1920s, the U.S. government thought blimps might be the next big thing in warfare. So the government started producing helium. And they created the Federal Helium Reserve, a vast store of helium that sits underground in the Texas panhandle.

The great blimp war never came to pass, but the reserve persisted. Now, the government is in the process of selling off the most of that helium and winding down the reserve. Weirdly, selling off all that helium has actually led to a big rise in the price of the gas.

This is a bigger deal than it might seem. Besides playing an essential role at birthday parties, helium is used to make cell phones, computers, plasma TVs — anything with a chip.

There is a private helium industry. But private producers are wary of expanding their business at a moment when the government is selling off its stockpile. These days, the government is selling enough helium to keep some private companies on the sidelines, but not enough to drive prices down.

At some point, the price of helium will rise enough to make it worthwhile for private companies to start producing more. This, in turn, should make prices stabilize.

But for now, companies that use helium are stuck, whether they're big global manufacturers making computer chips, or party planners buying balloons.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Magic Mike XXL' And 'Terminator Genisys' Bring The Testosterone

NPR's Bob Mondello looks at the Independence Day weekend blockbusters, Magic Mike XXL and Terminator Genisys.
NPR

POTUS Weighs In: No Peas In Guacamole

The online debate began after the New York Times published a guacamole recipe that includes fresh peas.
NPR

U.S., Cuba To Reopen Embassies In Step Toward Normal Relations

The White House announced Wednesday the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, which is seen as a key step toward more normal diplomatic ties with the Cold War foe.
NPR

Somebody Is Cutting Internet Cables In California

There have been at least 11 attacks in the San Francisco Bay Area in the past year, according to the FBI. The most recent occurred Tuesday and disrupted service as far north as Seattle.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.