50 years ago, the United States wanted to deflate the helium stockpile

Excerpt from the April 17, 1971 issue of Science News

a balloon being filled with helium

ln the 1970s, the government tried and failed to get away from stockpiling helium. In 2021, there’s still a helium reserve — and the government is still trying to get rid of it.

nito100/iStock/Getty Images Plus

cover of the April 17, 1971 issue

Helium: Should it be conserved?Science News, April 17, 1971

To avoid some of the loss and provide a stockpile against future needs, the United States Government, in the late 1950s, established a helium conservation program.… Under the program the Bureau of Mines contracts with certain natural gas producers to extract helium and store it in underground chambers. Now the users and extractors of helium are fighting a decision to end that program.


To the relief of balloons everywhere, the Federal Helium Reserve survived. Arguments to shutter the facility, located in Texas, centered around declining use. But the element is often used in scientific research and is now crucial for smartphone manufacturing and MRI machines. Global demand is high, and users have faced numerous shortages. In 2016, the discovery of a helium gas deposit under Tanzania temporarily eased concerns of the world’s supply running dry (SN: 7/23/16, p. 14). Still, the U.S. government has long wanted to float away from the helium game and plans to close the reserve later this year.

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

More Stories from Science News on Science & Society