One of the most abundant elements in universe has become rare- Helium

By
Home Inspector with NCW Home Inspections, LLC

One of the most abundant elements in universe has become rare- Helium

Okay I think I remember hearing something about this a few months back but it did not come to reality till this weekend.

My mom is celebrating her 80th birthday and I went to get some balloons.  As I was having the clerk fill the balloons I choose she goes on to tell me that I was lucky, they did not know if they would be getting a tank in due to the Helium Shortage.

                                      Helium Atom Wenatchee Home Inspection

So what gives?

Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. Helium is so abundant in outer space it makes up about 23% of the mass of the visible universe. Stars produce Helium via nuclear fusion every moment in time. It is used worldwide for everyone from physicists to computer chip makers to my balloon vendor who was worried about her supply.

 

                                      

It turns out that the federal government is getting out of the “Helium” business after more than eighty years of production (hey that’s my Mom’s age… coincidence?). It was hoped that the private sector would step in and fill the void. But this has not been the case.

As it turns out the United States is to Helium as what Saudi Arabia is to oil. The US produced about 90% of the commercially available Helium in the world until recently. The US has been producing helium since 1929.

                                            Helium from periodic table  Wenatchee Home Inspection

In 1996, Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act.  This was to allow private industry to take over Helium production from the government. Well that has not turned out as well as they hoped.

Though helium is not rare in the universe it is rarer on our planet and it is somewhat costly to extract. The US has wells in Texas as part of the Federal Helium Reserve that was established in 1925 near Amarillo. Oklahoma and Kansas are the principal world sources. Algeria, Canada, Poland and Russia also are producers at lower levels.  It has been calculated that helium makes up only about 0.000001% of the combined weight of the earth's atmosphere and crust. But most of it is concentrated in the exosphere, which is the outermost region of the atmosphere. This is 600-1500 miles above the earth's surface.

Some helium is extracted directly from the atmosphere but the majority of “Crude Helium” is separated from natural gas production through liquefaction and purification.

Helium Production Worldwide


New plants are scheduled to come online in the coming year but till that happens we could still be facing some shortages.

Ancora Imparo


NCW Home Inspections, LLC  is a Licensed Washington State Home Inspection service located in Wenatchee Washington serving Chelan County, Douglas County, Kittitas County, Okanogan County and Grant County Washington and the cities of Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Cashmere, Oroville, Cle Elum, East Wenatchee, Quincy and many more…  

Your Wenatchee and Chelan Professional Real Estate, Home and Structural Pest Inspection Service
www.ncwhomeinspections.com          509-670-9572

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Rainer
6,872
Cooper Jacobs
Real Estate, Woodway Real Estate & Realtors
Woodway Luxury Homes & Land

Wow!  Extremely interesting and one of those things I have taken for granted of course and never thought about it.

December 02, 2012 09:07 AM
Rainer
107,356
Leslie G. Rojohn
GRI, ABR ~ MoonDancer Realty
MoonDancer Realty

Just another example of how privitization isn't the panacea that some people think it is.

December 02, 2012 09:26 AM
Rainmaker
358,433
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Cooper, I did not think of it till this weekend.

Leslie, This can be true at time. Turns out there is a private company in Wyoming that was suppose to be online by now but they have had several setbacks and delays.

 

Here is an interesting article I found

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/helium/mcs-2012-heliu.pdf

December 02, 2012 09:39 AM
Ambassador
1,067,967
Charles Buell
Seattle Home Inspector
Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Don, now how am I going to talk in a squeaky voice?

December 02, 2012 10:17 AM
Rainer
246,501
Frank Castaldini
Realtor - Homes for Sale in San Francisco
Coldwell Banker

There goes the budget for heliem balloons.  I may have to cutback a few balloons here or there.  Just having some fun.

Another two elements that are in abundant supply here in San Francisco. Hydrogen and Oxegen.  Lots of H2O this weekend.

December 02, 2012 10:20 AM
Rainer
170,105
Robert Butler
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection
Aspect Inspection

Just use air in the balloons and get used to hanging them upside down. Lead balloons, no where have I heard that before...

December 02, 2012 11:04 AM
Rainmaker
358,433
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

No more high pitchin for you Charlie.

Frank what a party pooper I am.

 

Robert, you can heat em up.

December 02, 2012 06:04 PM
Rainmaker
1,217,767
Jay Markanich
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

For the private sector to take over something there has to be profit in it.  When the gubment does something, it's with somebody else's money - like mine.  They don't care about the profit part.

There's a shortage of bees too.  Maybe the two shortages can be combined and they can symbiotically produce each other?

December 03, 2012 01:35 AM
Rainmaker
358,433
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jay, I understand your sentiment but in some cases just not about money. Remember these companies are already making money off of natural gas.

Also sometimes the private sector just does not do that good of job. I know many believe that if the gubment does something that it will more costly and a poorer job but that is just not the case in some areas.

My brother worked for NOAA performing the costal survey. He had been there long enough to go from NOAA doing it all to having much of the work being performed by private companies. The gubmet thought it could save money by privatizing. The end result was that the cost savings was never achieved and quality went downhill. They spent more money correcting bad information and auditing the companies to ensure compliance. 

So it is not always best for private industry to do some things as counter intuitive it may seem.

December 03, 2012 06:26 AM
Rainmaker
1,217,767
Jay Markanich
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

Don, are you saying that if there is not profit in something it will be pursued by a private entreprenuer?  Profit encourages the pursuit.  If the producers of natural gas, which are abundantly supplied as you know, cannot integrate horizontally to ALSO provide helium (I suggest it wouldn't require much change in the way of procedures and equipment) there must be a reason they are not.

I suggest the reason is money.

December 03, 2012 11:07 AM
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Rainmaker
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Donald Hester

NCW Home Inspections, LLC
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