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by Kevin Coupe

Maybe I've just been delusional or colossally misinformed, but I've always sort of worked on the assumption that certain elements were in plentiful supply and that we'd never really have to worry about their availability.

Not so.

According to the New York Times this morning, we now are enduring as global helium shortage that means, quite simply, that there are fewer balloons in the air these days and less ability for people to make themselves sound like Alvin the Chipmunk.

According to the story, "A global helium shortage has turned the second-most abundant element in the universe (after hydrogen) into a sought-after scarcity, disrupting its use in everything from party balloons and holiday parade floats to M.R.I. machines and scientific research.

"In years past, there have been periodic shortages of helium — in 1958, the giant balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were filled with air instead of helium and hoisted onto trucks — but physicists, industry experts and federal officials said that this year’s shortage had been one of the worst, for its duration and scale."

Go figure. Not only are we experiencing a global helium shortage, but this isn;t even the first global experience that has taken place.

I learn something every day.

And because I assume that, like me, you may be curious about why this shortage exists, let's go back to the Times story:

"The shortage is the result of a complex interplay between commercial gas companies and the federal government, which maintains an underground helium reserve northwest of downtown Amarillo that produces roughly 30 percent of the world’s helium.

"Experts say the shortage has many causes. Because helium is a byproduct of natural gas extraction, a drop in natural gas prices has reduced the financial incentives for many overseas companies to produce helium. In addition, suppliers’ ability to meet the growing demand for helium has been strained by production problems around the world. Helium plants that are being built or are already operational in Qatar, Algeria, Wyoming and elsewhere have experienced a series of construction delays or maintenance troubles."

Go figure.
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