Montanans need helium for everything from MRI screenings to welding, and Senator Jon Tester is stepping up to ensure that the indispensable gas remains widely available in the Big Sky State.
The Federal Helium Reserve in Texas is the world's only underground helium storage facility, and it sells roughly half of all helium used in the United States each year. But a current law will stop the reserve's sales in 2015, causing disruptions in the overall helium supply and distorting the helium market, leading to a shortage of the gas.
Tester is backing a bipartisan bill that will authorize the reserve to sell helium beyond 2015. Tester said the bill will create more long-term certainty for both helium producers and consumers -- and provide relief for small businesses facing a shortfall of the gas.
"Helium is used everywhere, including our hospitals and our latest scientific inventions," Tester said. "This common sense measure ensures that folks who need helium can access it while encouraging producers to create jobs and increase our long-term supply by developing new sources."
Helium is used in semiconductors, fiber optic cables, and scientific research -- as well as party balloons. Without Congressional action, industrial and commercial businesses that increasingly rely on helium will become more dependent on foreign sources, which have experienced inconsistent supply.
Tester's bipartisan bill also ensures that U.S. taxpayers receive a fair price for the reserve's helium. Sales from the Federal Helium Reserve, which is managed by the U.S. Interior Department, reduce the nation's debt.
Weil Helium LLC is developing and extracting helium in Rudyard, near Havre. Helium is extracted when natural gas is refined. Tester's bill will ensure a stable, long-term market for Weil's helium.