Production: Although Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe
it is a rare gas on earth. It exists in the atmosphere in such small quantities
(less than five parts per million) that recovering it from the air is
uneconomical. Helium is produced as a by-product of the refining of natural gas,
which is carried out on a commercial scale in the USA and Poland. In these areas
natural gas contains a relatively high concentration of Helium which has
accumulated as a result of radioactive decay of heavy elements within the
earth's crust. Helium is supplied to distribution centres throughout the world
in liquid form in large cryogenic containers. The Helium is filled into liquid
containers, gas cylinders and cylinder packs as necessary.
History of Helium Production: Government involvement in helium conservation
dates to the Helium Act of 1925 which authorized the Bureau of Mines to build
and operate a large-scale helium extraction and purification plant. From 1929
until 1960 the federal government was the only domestic helium producer. In 1960,
Congress amended the Helium Act to provide incentives to natural gas producers
for stripping natural gas of its helium, for purchase of the separated helium by
the government, and for its long-term storage. With over 960 million cubic
meters (34.6 billion cubic feet) of helium in government storage and a large
private helium recovery industry, questions arise as to the need for either the
federal helium extraction program or the federally maintained helium stockpile.
In a move which would take the federal government out of the helium business,
Congress passed the Helium Privatization Act (H.R. 873) as part of the Seven-
Year Balanced Budget Reconciliation Act of 1995 (H.R. 2491). Although the
measure died when the President vetoed the Budget Act on December 6, 1995, the
Administration has made a goal the privatization of the federal helium program.
On April 30, 1996, the House... [continues]
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