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Remember Peak Helium and the $150 party balloon?

Remember Peak Helium and the $150 party balloon? thumbnail

Remember Peak Everything? It seems that a few years ago that’s all we wrote about on TreeHugger, Peak Oil, Peak Water and yes, Peak Helium. The use of helium for frivolous things like party balloons and inflatable Kermits was particularly galling, since it was also needed for scientific uses and for superconductors in MRI machines. The Large Hadron Collider alone needs 120 tonnes of the stuff to keep its magnets 1.9 degrees above Absolute Zero.

Brian Merchant wrote:

These helium party balloons surely rank among the most frivolous products in existence. The prospect of labs around the world disbanding crucial medical and scientific research to make room for crinkly novelty items is stunning in its absurdity. It is a powerful reflection of how reckless the marketplace can be.

However it appears that we can relax a bit; a new supply has been discovered in Tanzania, 54 billion cubic feet of the stuff, enough to fill 1.2 million MRI machines or by my calculation, 288,000 Kermits. That means Macy’s can keep the Thanksgiving parade going for another 18,000 years.

Helium is created by the radioactive decay of Uranium, and gets trapped in rock with natural gas. According to the Guardian,

A team from the UK and Norway uncovered the huge resource after applying expertise gleaned from oil and gas exploration to understand how helium is produced in rocks under the ground and where it accumulates. “This is a significant find,” said Jon Gluyas, professor of geo-energy at Durham University and a member of the discovery team. “There are reserves of helium gas, but they have been depleting quite quickly. The price has gone up 500% in 15 years.”

Brian quoted a researcher in his 2012 story: “I will not be happy if I cannot have a medical scan in my 70s, because we wasted helium on party balloons while I was in my 30s.” Apparently he need no longer worry about it personally, it will be another generation’s problem. Just as we keep burning fossil fuels as fast as we can frack them, the party continues, balloons and all. Peak whatever.


15 Comments on "Remember Peak Helium and the $150 party balloon?"

  1. forbin on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 6:48 am 

    As of 2011 the world’s helium reserves were estimated at 40 billion cubic meters

    85 million cubic meters found – not sure how much recoverable

    makes you think , doesnt it


  2. dave thompson on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 6:58 am 

    Great lets go to Tanzania and steal all the helium.

  3. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 8:53 am 

    The stupidity is overwhelming. One last place found, to go and drill out all the helium. Therefore, we must laugh at those who said not to waste it, and we must immediately start discarding it all recklessly again, until it surely is all gone. Also, we can shoot the Tanzanians so that we don’t have to pay them.

    I got an MRI. There was a tin chimney stack going out the roof of the building, from the top of the MRI magnet. I ask what’s that roof stack? He says, the magnet boils the helium so it’s vented out the roof of the building. Oh. That’s brilliant. They could be reclaiming it right there, but they can’t be bothered. Praise the red white and blue holy savior, Jesus Ronald McDonald, give the 400 pounders some more birthday cake and helium balloons, while the military goes overseas to secure a perimeter and take the helium.

  4. PracticalMaina on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 9:16 am 

    Remember when pot was supposed to make you forgetful and stupid?

  5. PracticalMaina on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 11:24 am 

    Thats it, I am starting a Zeppelin company.

  6. PracticalMaina on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 11:30 am 

    GSR, in my area, the hospitals, despite having plenty of patients from our older population, share an MRI machine between facilities. It is all built into a heavy ass tractor trailer truck. Instead of purchasing a few of this expensive important machine, they bought a brand new $100,000 tractor, and probably spend that annually in fuel and driver time. A potentially lifesaving device should be important enough to have at a hospital all the time. But no, instead we have to have a massive magnet machine barreling down the highway, dont crash buddy or that multi million dollar life saving machine could become a life ending one.

  7. Plantagenet on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 12:04 pm 

    If we run out of Helium on the earth, we can always build a spaceship and fly to the sun and capture Helium from the solar wind.


  8. Bob Owens on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 12:31 pm 

    When we have finished wasting all the Helium on Earth we can always go to the city of Helium on Mars ruled by John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. Even if they run out of Helium we will always have an unlimited supply of Hot Air.

  9. Apneaman on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 12:46 pm 

    We need the helium for home suicide kits. Apparently it’s a happy way to go, although I’m not sure who they asked.

  10. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 1:50 pm 

    But since the ITER fusion process will supposedly save us (any year now, just ask the proponents), then since that will produce helium as a byproduct — whoopee, we have all the energy AND helium we want.

    Just be patient a little longer.

    I can hardly wait for my flying fusion powered car, BTW. It will make Tesla SO passe.

  11. Xerxes on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 8:20 pm 

    If the actual amount is 54 billion cubic feet, that’s about 1.5e9 m^3. The current production rate is ~175e6 m^3/yr so if all of the helium in Tanzania were recoverable it would extend our supply for 8 years.

  12. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 30th Jun 2016 8:40 pm 

    Hi Practical Mania, that sounds dreadful, a heavy, power consumptive, difficult to calibrate machine belongs on a concrete slab, not on an 18-wheeler. Sounds like the IQ’s are plummeting out your way. Sorry bout that.

    For those who say Fusion power plants, will produce helium, unfortunately that does not consider the fact that those are a fantasy that will never actually go online.

    if we run out of helium for suicide kits, back to the old school, put the car in the garage and let it idle.

  13. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 1st Jul 2016 12:01 am 

    Nice! Since we get 8 more years, then let’s use it all up! More birthday cake and party balloons! And the Tanzanians we kill to make it happen, their guts can lubricate our tank treads!

  14. PracticalMaina on Fri, 1st Jul 2016 8:28 am 

    I don’t know if its low IQ or just your run of the mill corruption, I imagine someone from the MRI-trailer company handed someone some cash….. Hard to believe because there’s hardly ever any corruption in health care, just ask the pharmaceutical bizz, or the insurance or the hospitals.

  15. PracticalMaina on Fri, 1st Jul 2016 8:59 am 

    Good thing the Texas attorney general had Exxons back about lying to the public and shareholders. Good for you Texas AG, frying innocent people, and circumventing the law for big pollution, they should be very proud.

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