As helium supply continues to tighten in the US, key businesses that rely on a consistent supply in the country, including semiconductor manufacturers and operators of magnetic resonance image (MRI) machines, are beginning to feel an impact.

The Compressed Gas Association (CGA) on Thursday (Feb 24) highlighted the struggle for these markets as a result of outages at the US Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) crude helium enrichment unit, along other contributing factors.

As gasworld heard from Phil Kornbluth, President of Kornbluth Helium Consulting, earlier this month, new information about the explosion and fire that took place at Gazprom’s Amur natural gas processing facility on 5th January indicates that helium production will remain offline for at least the next six months, further adding to industry strain.

Read more: Kornbluth: Latest Amur fire tightens helium supply for 2022

Adding to this, the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine are resulting in further questions and complications when it comes to the future global supply.

Taking the above into consideration, the CGA and its member companies have this week urged the US Congress to take immediate action to resolve the critical helium supply shortage to support those who rely on the gas.

Highlighting what it believes needs to be done in order to support the delicate supply chain, the CGA has asked congress to:

  1. Conduct Congressional oversight over the operations and safety management of the FHR Cliffside Field to ensure that the facility returns to a safe and reliable supply of helium
  2. Transfer the operations of the Cliffside Field facility to an entity with a proven safety track record as soon as possible to ensure the safe and reliable supply of helium without significant BLM shutdown
  3. Delay the sale of the Federal Helium Reserve beyond September 2023 by at least two years to allow privately owned helium to be withdrawn by industry so supply is not interrupted and that the financial regime for operating the FHR continues until such sale occurs
  4. Once the in-kind (federal) program ends on September 30, 2022, sell the remaining helium in tranches and allow these volumes to be added to the privately owned helium to be withdrawn by industry prior to the sale of the Federal Helium Reserve.

The CGA’s call on congress follows US Senator John Barrasso and Senator Mike Lee earlier this month sendng a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, expressing their opposition to the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) recent proposal to remove helium and uranium from the list of critical minerals.

At the time, Barrasso, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), and Lee, ranking member of the ENR Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining, called on the secretary to retain helium and uranium on the Department of the Interior’s list of critical minerals.

The letter stated that “foreign political risk, military conflict, violent unrest, and anticompetitive and protectionist behaviour associated with helium” mean that the Biden administration should reconsider helium’s inclusion on the list.

Read more: US Senators oppose helium’s removal from critical list

This all comes as gasworld just held its latest webinar, Helium Markets Reimagined: Part-1, hearing that 2022 is going to be a tough year for those that rely on the gas and end-users will undoubtably have to pay more than they like for helium.