From the Cheap Seats: The Federal Helium Dilemma

December 17, 2012

The Federal Helium Program was originally created in 1926

This is the kind of dispute that can only happen among a bunch of Democrats named Alvin, Simon or Theodore.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) is trying to get federal fingers out of the helium business.

It seems that the Bureau of Land Management operates what is known as the Federal Helium Reserve (and if that doesn’t confirm your suspicions about the tenor, or lack thereof, of federal budget talk, nothing will) and shockingly ran the thing into $1.3 billion worth of debt.

Yes, these are the same people, the BLM, entrusted with the vast federal holdings of oil shale in western Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The BLM has been selling helium at a price designed to collect the $1.3 billion, which is supposed to happen in October, and when it does, the agency will no longer have the authority to sell helium, so it will shut the reserve down.

Yes, folks, they really think this way.

Now before you shed a tear for balloons that will no longer float away because they’re filled with a lighter-than-air gas, consider for a moment that helium also has significant industrial and medical uses, including MRIs.

So if you harbored doubts about some whack-job on the Independent Physicians Advisory Board holding life-and-death authority on your medical needs, consider that the BLM will have the first cut at you by deciding whether to supply helium to the medical industry, or hoard its asset in the name of federal responsibility.

And the BLM answers to Ken Salazar, just so you know. Is it just Cheap Seats, or does he sometimes sound like he’s been tapping the reserve a bit?

Anyway, knowing all that, are you feeling any better?

If so, remember that this year, the BLM decided to simply shut the reserve down, throwing helium-dependent industries into chaos.  Just another day at the office, or not, for the BLM.

Hastings wants the BLM to operate the reserve much like it handles off-shore drilling leases, so Cheap Seats has its doubts.

At least, however, he wants competitive bidding and a commitment to getting more of a market price for helium.

If that proves to inflate the price of a dwindling asset, well, it is helium after all.

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