A rather lightweight piece of legislation was introduced to the U.S. Senate by Jeff Bingaman. The bill, S. 2374 has been written to protect Big Helium.
Yes, apparently, there is such a thing as Big Helium – or, at least, the helium industry is big enough to persuade U.S. senators to write legislation specifically designed for its benefit.
S. 2374, also known as the Helium Stewardship Act, has been written to protect the helium industry from the consequences of the dissolution of the Federal Helium Reserve. The Federal Helium Reserve is a gigantic collection of the lighter-than-air gas, held in immense tanks underground, perhaps so that they don’t go floating away, outside of Amarillo, Texas.
The federal budget deficit has been ballooning for some time now, and sales from the Federal Helium Reserve could provide 1.3 billion dollars in revenue to reduce the deficit. Reducing the federal deficit is a good thing for the American people generally, but the helium industry is worried that the public good could cut into its profits.
If the Federal Helium Reserve were to sell off the vast amounts of helium it currently holds, the price of helium would drop. This would be a boon to medical researchers who use helium in their diagnostic equipment. Circuses and used car dealerships would also see their helium expenses reduced. The helium industry, however, would make less profit on every tank of helium sold.
(There’s also the risk that a sudden release of helium could temporarily raise the pitch of Americans’ voices, causing American men to become temporarily less attractive to foreign women, resulting in an imbalance in green card applications that could spread throughout the entire immigration system, as well as threatening family values.)
Of course, the helium industry has enjoyed moderately inflated helium prices in the past, thanks to the additional market pressure created by federal government purchases of helium. Maybe this is a case of what goes around comes around.
The idea of the influence of Big Helium sounds like a joke, but actually, the helium industry is tied to one of the most powerful – and profitable – industries in the nation: The oil and gas industry. Helium is most commonly found alongside natural gas, so it’s gas drilling companies that are involved in capturing helium and sending it to big refineries. The companies that are pumping out helium are part of an industrial network that’s got plenty of cash on hand – enough cash to survive a temporary market dip, and enough cash to gain the attention of members of Congress.