Helium shortage grounds holiday balloons


Truth: I don’t know jack about science. Literally, nothing.

Science and I have a pretty serious and mutual hate-hate relationship. Any and all things science-related outside of an episode of “Breaking Bad” — which hasn’t really been about science since Season two anyways — makes me break out in hives.

So upon hearing that there is a “global helium shortage,” I blinked a couple times and went about my business. What the heck is a helium shortage? Unless it’s going to have an effect on girls-night-out or the Giants’ winning record, then someone else needs to worry about it.

Until, that is, Inside Bay Area reported this worldwide lack of He is going affect how many floats are in this year’s Fourth of July parades.

Okay, that is something I can comprehend.

Let’s see if I can put this into “Science for Dummies“-style verbiage: Although helium is the second-most common element in the greater universe, it isn’t plentiful on Earth. Maintenance issues at helium-producing plants in Algeria and Australia — and  a new plant in Wyoming — have linked up with a drop in natural gas prices to limit production of this lighter-than-air element.

The shortage threatens to deflate holiday traditions like balloons and parade floats.

Tony Loiacono, owner of Copenhagen Balloons in San Carlos, tells Inside Bay Area that helium tanks that once cost between “$65 to $90 a piece” are now ranging around $200 a tank.

When your clientele includes the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, you need those tanks to blow up mass quantities of balloons.

On the upside, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is optimistic that the shortage will “resolve itself within a year.” Assistant field manager for helium operations Sam Burton — yes, that is an actual job title — believes a recent fire in Wyoming that hit the new strand of plants could cause another rise in prices, but still believes the bubble won’t last much longer than through the year.

So as long as these helium plants start thriving more, the price of helium tanks will go down and balloon outlets won’t go out of business.

Okay, that’s enough science for a month or so. My head is starting to hurt.

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