Skip to main content

Don't deflate the party

By Daniel A. Flynn, Special to CNN
March 2, 2013 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
A balloon seller in Tokyo Disneyland in 2011.
A balloon seller in Tokyo Disneyland in 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Editor's note: Daniel A. Flynn is chairman of the Balloon Council, an organization of retailers, distributors and manufacturers. He is also chief operating officer of Pioneer Balloon Company.

(CNN) -- An amusement park is usually a place of joy and celebration for children around the world. But recently, kids in Japan may have met disappointment when officials at Tokyo's Disneyland decided to suspend sales of balloons because of a temporary global helium shortage.

Despite some worries over the world's supply of helium, today's situation shouldn't cause panic.

Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, though it is much rarer on Earth. Crude helium is a byproduct of processing natural gas liquids in the United States and liquefied natural gas offshore. From that processing, crude helium is purified and liquefied for sale and delivery.

Helium prices balloon as supplies run out

Daniel A. Flynn
Daniel A. Flynn

To date, extractors have been slow in developing helium supplies. This means the helium supply floats, if you will, at the mercy of the natural gas market. A decrease in natural gas prices has led to lower crude helium production overseas.

Added to the reduced natural gas production, there have been problems at several natural gas production facilities, including existing facilities not operating at full production and delays in new facilities.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



This "perfect storm" between facility issues and lower natural gas production overseas has caused a shortage in helium worldwide. But like the shortage experienced in 2006 and 2007, it will pass. The situation will likely ameliorate by the end of 2013.

The world is not running out of helium. Estimated worldwide helium reserves are projected to last for 300 years at today's usage rates. Also, new plants are scheduled to begin operation in 2013.

While the temporary shortage is a call to be smart and judicious with helium use in the very short term, it does not justify the alarmist rhetoric of those who have called for an end to balloon sales.

Balloons are far from a frivolous symbol of celebration -- there are real people earning their livings from balloon sales. In today's economic climate, we need to be expanding the workforce, not contracting it.

Tens of thousands of people in the United States have jobs that may be affected by the balloon industry, including manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.

Opinion: U.S. needs a strategy on helium

For small retailers, balloons are often an important component of the store's success, and many of these small businesses would not be able to survive without the revenue generated from balloons.

In light of the economic impact, the importance of the balloon industry must be taken seriously. At the same time, the current helium shortage calls for creativity to ensure that this resource is available for its many critical uses across the commercial, medical, electronic, fiber optics and defense industries.

That's why many balloon retailers are mixing air or other safe, alternate gases with helium to extend the supply through this shortage.

While helium users are dealing with the effects of limited supply, Congress is working on critical legislation that will continue to ensure a needed source of helium until the private sector has enough helium production to meet worldwide capacity.

Current law requires the Federal Helium Reserve operations be reauthorized after its debts are paid off, which is expected later this year. The House has introduced legislation and held a hearing in the new congressional session to find a solution that would continue the federal operation of the reserve beyond this point, ensuring stability and predictability in the helium market for a short, finite time until known plants in development start operation.

Because of the perceived helium shortage, in summer 2012, the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team planned to suspend a 50-year tradition in which the team launched red balloons into the air to celebrate the team's first touchdown at every home game. After a closer evaluation, the football program realized the shortage was nowhere near as dire. Nebraska touchdown celebrations continued throughout the season, but with a few less balloons than in years past.

Nebraska is not alone in its realization. Armed with the facts, the best policy toward helium is to recognize the supply issue as temporary and support all industry uses of helium, whether it's to provide a life-saving medical procedure, a job or a symbol of joy and celebration.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Flynn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT