Nick Haines, head of source development for Linde Global Helium, called for legislation that would preserve stability in US helium markets before a House committee today.

In testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday 14th February, Haines called for changes to a proposed bill that would put up for auction all of the helium produced from the Bureau of Land Management’s Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas. He argued that, without revisions, the legislation would add more instability to an already volatile helium market, and ultimately hurt consumers.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for operating and maintaining the Federal Helium Reserve and providing enriched crude helium to private refiners.  Helium is essential to the manufacture of high-tech products such as semiconductors, fiber-optic cable, and MRI machines.  It is also used extensively in scientific research.

“We believe the proposed auction will disrupt the marketplace and create tremendous uncertainty with regard to continued helium supplies,” Haines said.

“As a business, Linde doesn’t benefit from a higher or lower price of helium. We do lose, however, if the market suffers from dramatic price swings or supply disruptions. So do our customers, and so do consumers. The price uncertainty arising from periodic auctions makes it more complex for customers to predict their costs and manage their businesses.”

Linde has an extensive investment in the helium business that is fully integrated from production to distribution and retail sales. To maintain this investment, Linde requires long-term contracts with its suppliers and customers.

“If we are unable to obtain long-term supply agreements, we may be forced to reduce investments and costs, as well as contracts with our customers. Our customers in turn need the reliability of long-term contracts as well. When the nation’s largest supplier of crude helium auctions 100% of its supply, we can’t be sure on a periodic basis if we’ll have helium to supply to our customers,” said Haines.

Haines argued that the BLM could ensure that it is obtaining fair market value for helium with less drastic revisions to its procedures, which in turn would be less disruptive to the stability of the existing supply chain.  He praised the Committee for working to reauthorise the BLM helium program, which expires in the near future.