We're really running out of helium?

In today’s Cracked.com article, one item they mentioned the world’s running out of is helium.

In that entry, there’s a throwaway line with no support or explanation that states:

“In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. government to sell off our helium stockpile by 2015.”

The hell?

I get that one thing the article points out is that people don’t know/don’t care about the value of certain things, but why would the government force a sell off of a commodity? Was storage costing us too much? It seems odd that the government would make a specific law to make us dependant on outside sources when we apparently have a controlling monopoly on the item in question

Here you go: http://www.helium.com/items/874929-understanding-the-helium-privitization-act-of-1996

Probably to make money on the sale, so as to close the budget deficit a little more. And most of the sales will probably be to the American private sector, so “we” will still have a monopoly.

Also, remember that some people believe the world is ending soon, and there’s no reason to save anything for the future. Sometimes these people get into government.

Specifically this page seems to suggest that we’ll do OK: http://www.helium.com/items/876351-understanding-the-helium-privitization-act-of-1996

And I hope we aren’t running out of chocolate either!

How can we be running out of helium? Isn’t it a noble gas, non-reactive, so all of the helium we ever had is still around? Or is it just that we are running low on easily isolated helium?

Helium is lighter than the other elements in the atmosphere, so unlike them, it can and does slowly “leak” into outer space when in the atmosphere.

Thanks. Neat fact!

Just let’s keep it away from them durn Germans. :wink:

Thats true. But its also continually leaking out of the ground, so the amount thats in the atmosphere is at a rough equilibrium.

It sounds like that’s the issue.

The readily available helium is separated from certain pockets of natural gas. My understanding is the U.S.'s natural gas reserves are the most likely to contain helium, and so, most of the world’s available helium has been produced by extraction plants in the U.S. (The German airship Hindenburg used hydrogen because the U.S. refused to sell helium to Nazi Germany.)

The helium that occurs with natural gas is a product of the decay of radioactive elements in the earth’s crust, which accumulates in those pockets. So more is getting made. Just not very fast. For all intents and purposes, we can consider it to be constant.

We could probably produce helium the same way we do other inert gasses - by fractional distillation of liquid air - but it would be much more expensive. Helium is less abundant in the atmosphere than argon or neon, greater then krypton or xenon.

Cite? Wikipedia just mentions a general U.S. ban on helium exports, not anything specifically targeted at Germany.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium#Extraction_and_use :

“Because of a US military embargo against Germany that restricted helium supplies, the Hindenburg was forced to use hydrogen as the lift gas.”

And yet another reason to get those danged Hydrogen Fusion reactors working and on-line.

BTW, I love the spate of question we have had here involving Cracked.com articles recently. Much like all the Cracked shout outs you see in the comments section when a Cracked article links to a YouTube video.
Will Cracked-com become the new Slash-dot?

One good thing about getting helium from the atmosphere is that nobody will have a monopoly on it. It will be a certain expense because it will take X kilowatt hours at Y cents per kilowatt hour to produce Z grams of helium (and other useful gases at the same time).

It won’t go through the roof expensive because somebody has everyone else by the balls because they have the only decent supply or the only super fancy infrastructure to get at it. Mechanically inclined rednecks can harvest all the helium that their pocketbook and electric bills can stand.

The Hindenberg used hydrogen because hydrogen is a better gas to use for airships: It’s slightly more lifting and significantly cheaper. Nor, Hindenberg notwithstanding, is it significantly more dangerous than helium: It was mostly the envelope that burned in the Hindenberg disaster, not the hydrogen.

Yup. We’re quoting the fuck out of Cracked.com nowadays.

Yes, they do.

Michael Beard, Minnesota State Representative, Thinks God Replaces Natural Resources After We Exhaust Them

Hmm. A humorous source of interesting information. I wonder why people on the Straight Dope Message Board would like it…

Okay, so we have to double check them a lot more than Cecil, but we’re good at that sort of thing.