Supply chain interruptions have caused problems for various sectors of the economy over the past year — and a shortage of one resource, in particular, is having a ripple effect across the country.
According to reports, helium is currently in particularly short supply with the cost of this versatile gas nearly doubling in some areas. One retailer in Texas noted that even those who are willing to pay the premium price can only obtain half-filled tanks because of the shortage.
Of course, the problem is nothing new for those in industries that rely on helium. The current shortage dates back to 2021 and analysts expect that it will continue for at least another year.
This interruption marks at least the fourth major shortage of helium since the turn of the century.
For most consumers, primary use of the gas is in party balloons. As the supply interruption continues, costs continue to soar and one major retail chain, Party City, has recently filed for bankruptcy.
Just found out Party City is declaring bankruptcy because of the Helium shortage.
There’s other factors, but lack of balloon sales is the largest.
What a wild, wild time we live in.
— Jack Caporuscio (@Caporuscio_Jack) January 19, 2023
A number of other industries also rely on helium, often with much higher stakes than providing a floating balloon.
One notable example is law enforcement, where the element can be helpful in multiple tasks from blood tests during autopsies to analyzing narcotics. The Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida reported that its expenses have skyrocketed throughout the shortage with a tank of helium costing as much as $1,800 last year.
The healthcare field is also reliant on helium for, among other things, cooling down MRI machines. In response to the current situation, hospitals and other facilities are being forced to weigh the options of either rationing care or hiking prices for patients.
Other industrial uses of helium include welding the manufacturing semiconductors.
In order to increase supply, some industry insiders like Phil Kornbluth say that the answer might lie in drilling for more oil and gas. Helium is captured during such drilling operations and, amid a crackdown on oil exploration by the Biden administration, the supply of helium has also dwindled.
As Kornbluth advised: “The price of helium has risen to the point where it can be economically viable to explore for that gas and drill for that gas, just for the helium.”