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January 6 2013
Is is the lighter-than-air gas that makes a party balloon float up to the ceiling, but a shortage of the element is threatening to disrupt critical research projects.
In 1996 the US government decided to start selling off its national helium reserve at rock-bottom prices, leading to a glut of cheap helium on the world market. Scientists believe this explains why oil companies have not bothered to collect much of the helium released to the air during the mining of natural gas. With the entire US strategic reserve expected to be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price, several multimillion-pound projects in the UK have had to be put on hold.
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