Helium supply faces limitations across our supply chain. Why?
Helium is a byproduct of radioactive decay of thorium and uranium occurring in Earth’s crust and results when natural gas is harvested at large processing plants. This crude helium is purified, liquefied, then compressed before resembling its gaseous form we supply in tube trailers and cylinders.
Helium production is dominated domestically by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), with its crude producers, refineries, and reserves stored along the pipeline in west Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The BLM reserve continues to deplete. International helium sources include Qatar, Algeria, Russia, Poland, and Australia. Total global supply capability is estimated at 7 billion scf, but diplomatic crises and obstacles are prevalent.
Regarding its applications, the largest percentage of helium usage is in cryogenics (32%), followed by pressurization and purging (18%), controlled atmospheres (18%), welding (13%), balloons/lifting (13%), leak detection (4%), and breathing mixtures (2%).