Running out of number 2? In an election year? Is that possible? Oh, wait – it’s number 2 on the periodic table they’re talking about. And yes, we’re in the middle of a helium shortage. Time explains:
Helium is a common inert gas, but for commercial purposes it’s usually generated as a byproduct from natural gas mining. But because the recession has caused a slowdown in natural-gas production, helium markets are facing a shortage; more plants will coming online by the end of 2012 in Qatar, Russia and Wyoming, but not in time to ease the current crisis.
At one time most of the world’s Helium came from the United States. When in the 1920s the US decided not to export the ligher-than-air gas to Germany, the Zeppelin company decided to swtich from Helium to Hydrogen to inflate its two, new massive dirigibles, the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenberg… with what results we all know. Yes, here it comes… another conspiracy theory! America caused the Hindenberg tragedy. Bet it did it on purpose, too.
There was no damned conspiracy. Helium, because of its rarity and difficulty to extract, was considered an essential material in time of war, for Navy blimps and such.
Every time we fill decorative balloons with it, we are wasting a rare, non-renewable resource. Helium has many legitimate industrial uses, and may yet be used in giant cargo dirigibles or zeppelins. Making kiddie balloons is waste we no longer can afford.