Over the last several years, the global market has experienced a helium shortage. While the element is an abundant and naturally-occurring, its high rate of use in many industries caused a depletion in one of the world’s most productive helium storehouses, located in the Amarillo natural gas fields in Texas. Because of this, the United States government increased the price of helium significantly to extend the life of the helium reservoir. Despite it’s intended effect on the environment, however, this decision has created a challenge for many businesses, especially those who use helium leak detectors to ensure the quality of their products. Many of these manufacturers, who produce everything from automobile parts to IV bags, eventually switched to air leak testing, an equally effective and far cheaper leak testing procedure. However, due to the opening of a new helium plant in the Middle East, the price of helium might return to lower levels. But will this change actually solve the shortage and give businesses a reason to return to helium leak detectors?
After opening their latest helium plant in December 2013, Qatar is reportedly now on track to replace the U.S. as the world’s largest exporter of helium. As the world’s largest exporter of liquefied gas, Qatar may be uniquely poised to meet the high demand for helium However, this is far from a permanent, or even long-term, solution: Qatar is likely to run into the same situation as the Amarillo reservoir due to the demanding rate of use, meaning that prices will soon increase. Moreover, the product must now be transported globally, which may create longer waits and higher prices for manufacturers located far from the Middle East.
Because of this issue, a number of countries and organizations are currently trying to find ways to further increase the supply of helium: for example, one of the world’s largest helium importers, Japan, has made an agreement with the Russian energy company Gazprom, who will develop a helium production plant in eastern Siberia. However, for manufacturers, this problem will needs a solution much sooner. For this reason, many industries will likely begin making the switch from helium leak detectors to air leak testing and other advanced leak testing methods in the near future, reducing their expenses and decreasing their reliance on this complicated element.