Press Release: Helium Supply Shortage Threatens U.S. Semiconductors & Medical Imaging
Compressed Gas Association Asks Congress to Take Immediate Steps to Safely Resolve Helium Supply Issues in Support of Critical Domestic Manufacturing
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 24, 2022
MCLEAN, VIRGINIA – U.S. helium supply has recently tightened due to ongoing failures at the country’s primary production facility in Amarillo, Texas. This shortage has been worsened by foreign supply woes. An explosion at a new Russian helium production facility – one of the world’s largest – will delay production at that site well into 2022, and its future ability to ease global supply concerns has been further complicated by Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
As a result, key businesses in the United States that rely on helium – including semiconductor manufacturers and operators of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines – are beginning to feel the impact of the shortage.
“Key businesses in the United States that rely on helium – including semiconductor manufacturers and operators of MRI machines – are beginning to feel the impact of the shortage.”
U.S. helium suppliers rely heavily on the Federal Helium Reserve (FHR) in Amarillo, Texas. The position brief below describes the challenges in Amarillo and lays out a practical plan to address these problems and quickly bring production back on line, enabling the U.S. to maintain a safe and reliable helium supply in support of critical domestic manufacturing.
The Compressed Gas Association (CGA) and our member companies urge the U.S. Congress to take immediate action to resolve this critical helium supply shortage.
A Safe and Reliable Supply of Helium is Necessary to Support Critical Domestic Manufacturing
The Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, has been a critical asset for the U.S. economy for many decades. The FHR has historically provided a safe and reliable supply of helium to power incredible growth in U.S. industries. However, recent events at the FHR have put into question the safety and reliability of helium supply. Without federal intervention or oversight, the supply of U.S. helium may be put at risk.
Helium has unique thermal conductivity properties that make it a key resource for the U.S. domestic manufacturing supply chain. Helium is used for semiconductor production, crucial health equipment operation – including MRI machines – and is significant for federal research at the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense.
The FHR Cliffside Field helium storage reservoir produces a crude helium gas stream for delivery by pipeline to helium refiners. The Compressed Gas Association, an ANSI-accredited safety standards developing organization, represents companies with storage contracts for helium in the FHR that have a vested interest in ensuring the FHR is operated safely and reliably.
FHR Safety Issues
The FHR Cliffside Field, operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has experienced several safety incidents that have not been adequately addressed. Most recently, on April 16, 2021, the plant which produces crude helium from the FHR Cliffside Field helium storage reservoir, experienced a serious safety incident in which a natural gas cloud was released and floated above the facility. This scenario represented a significant explosion risk that could have caused injuries, loss of life, and significant damage to the plant, thus imperiling the long-term reliable supply of helium in the United States.
Despite the April incident, the Cliffside Field facility continued to run until July 1, 2021 when BLM abruptly shut down the operations to address unsafe conditions at the plant. Although this latest incident occurred nearly six months ago, the plant has yet to return to normal operating conditions.
Reliability of Access
The Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-40) required BLM to transfer the functions for selling off and disposing of remaining helium and helium assets to the General Services Administration (GSA) by Sept. 30, 2021. GSA must complete marketing, asset valuation, and disposal of all assets on or before September 30, 2023, when a new owner must take over operations and helium production from the field.
Ensuring a smooth transition between BLM’s sale of the FHR and related activities and private operation of the nation’s helium production through the Cliffside Field facility and others, is crucial to maintain the nation’s helium supply.
- Conduct Congressional oversight over the operations and safety management of the FHR Cliffside Field to ensure that the facility returns to a safe and reliable supply of helium;
- Transfer the operations of the Cliffside Field facility to an entity with a proven safety track record ASAP to ensure the safe and reliable supply of helium without significant BLM shutdown; and
- Delay the sale of the Federal Helium Reserve beyond September 2023 by at least two years to allow privately owned helium to be withdrawn by industry so supply is not interrupted and that the financial regime for operating the FHR continues until such sale occurs.
- Once the in-kind (federal) program ends on September 30, 2022, sell the remaining helium in tranches and allow these volumes to be added to the privately owned helium to be withdrawn by industry prior to the sale of the Federal Helium Reserve.
Founded in 1913, the Compressed Gas Association is dedicated to the development and promotion of safety standards and safe practices in the industrial, medical, and food gases industry. CGA represents more than 130 member companies including manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and transporters of gases, cryogenic liquids, and related products and services. Through a committee system, CGA develops technical specifications, safety standards, and training and educational materials, and works with government agencies to formulate and promote compliance with responsible regulations and standards.
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