By Kelli Wynn
What is Helium?
Helium is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that is a byproduct of natural gas. It is a non-renewable resource that is used in medical imaging, fiber optics and semiconductor manufacturing, laser welding, leak detection, aerospace, superconductivity development, defense and energy programs.
- The U.S. government became interested in helium during World War I. The Army valued it as a safe, noncombustible alternative to hydrogen for use in buoyant aircraft.
- Congress created the Federal Helium Program in 1925 to ensure that helium would be available to the government for defense needs.
- Demand for helium increased after World War II, so Congress passed amendments to the Helium Act in 1960. These amendments provided incentives for private natural gas producers to extract helium from natural gas and sell it to the government. They also required the Bureau of Mines to set prices on the helium it sold that would cover the program’s costs and repay its debts.
- Private demand exceeded federal demand by the 1990s.
- The 1996 Helium Privatization Act paved the way for the Bureau of Land Management to be responsible for operating the Federal Helium Reserve and providing enriched crude helium to private refiners.
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management