For the first time ever, researchers have tracked and located a helium gas field. And the discovery, presented Tuesday during the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Japan, could help allay fears about a global helium shortage, which could affect such sectors as medicine and manufacturing...That was the understanding I had had for years. That's why I understood the U.S. maintains its National Helium Reserve. But the claim of a world shortage of the gas is hogwash, according to this report in Wired:
Even though helium is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, there’s concern that it may be running dry here on planet Earth.
Most of the world’s helium comes from natural gas, where it can exist in very small quantities. A good source will be about 3 percent helium, but more often helium hovers between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent—nothing compared to the relatively astronomical 10 percent pocket found in Tanzania. But worldwide, helium is about a thousand times less lucrative than gas, so even though removing (inert) helium makes the gas burn better, companies don’t usually bother to take it out. “Normally, it’s an afterthought,” says Samuel Burton, assistant field manager at the Federal Helium Program. “It’s something that they don’t even consider because the natural gas makes so much more money for them.”
When helium’s price goes up—like it has for most of the past few years—natural gas companies are incentivized to sell extracted helium on its own. Countries like Qatar mine so much natural gas that even though it has relatively little helium, they can crank out a decent percentage of the world’s demand as an afterthought...
“There is actually so much helium that’s flooding the market that it’s not in short supply at all,” Burton says. And as for the future, “I’ve seen a lot of talk about this global shortage of helium—that’s actually not the case. In the United States, we’ve got at least 20 years of known supplies that are easily, readily available.”