If I had fashioned had space, I would have included a subtitle because of this piece as follows: Things do not have to run out to become unavailable. So, now you have an over-all idea about the problem with helium, a problem to which I’ll come back shortly. But, let me discuss the broader concern my subtitle enunciates first.
How many times have you heard someone say that we have huge levels of such and such a resource underground (or even in seawater), so there is certainly nothing to get worried about? It is hard to learn where to start with this simplification since it comes from minds that are so egregiously uninformed.
The rich will pay whatever price is essential for his or her food and energy. These are small percentages of their income even if food and energy costs dual, triple, or go up 10 times. But such is not the case for almost all humans on the planet. At some price, food becomes unaffordable, gasoline becomes unaffordable, and drinkable drinking water has become unaffordable even. What this tells us is that the smooth functioning of the global system depends not simply on resources, but affordable resources and the products and services they make possible broadly. Whatever the causes of an affordability problem are, millions and even billions could go without adequate food and fuel as a total result.
Many on the margins would become ill from inadequate diet, some might starve outright, and many could freeze for insufficient warmth in cold climates. All this is too dramatic just yet Perhaps. So, let’s take an example of something which has recently become suddenly and unexpectedly less available: Helium.
Helium is the next most abundant component in the universe after hydrogen. But, on the world it is exceedingly rare. The primary source is decaying radioactive minerals in the Earth’s crust which emit helium nuclei as part of their decay process. A little portion of this helium gets trapped in natural gas reservoirs. The others make its way into the atmosphere and into space then. Hardly any gas reservoirs are rich in this trapped helium to make it worthwhile to extract enough, process and move on to the market.
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Unless we find another affordable way to obtain helium, which means that helium production will necessarily top and decrease when the helium-rich natural gas reservoirs that keep it peak and decline. It wouldn’t matter so much that helium is now hard to get if it weren’t for the fact that for many applications there is no substitute, none. First, we aren’t working out of helium.
What’s happening is that the U.S. All of this was telegraphed in the past to industry. In 1996 the U.S. Congress passed a statutory regulation mandating that the federal government get out of the helium business by 2015. That was likely to give the required time for the private marketplace to get where government would leave off.