US Senators introduce bill to shore up federal helium supply

23 April 2013 23:47  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Two US senators introduced a bill on Tuesday aimed at preventing a shortage in the nation's helium supply by providing continued access to the Federal Helium Reserve.

Called the “Helium Stewardship Act of 2013”, the US Senate legislation, introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon) and Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska), would allow the helium reserve to operate in three phases.

The first phase would have the reserve operate as it currently does through 30 September 2014.

A transition away from federal ownership would begin in fiscal year 2015 with the establishment of an auction of 10% of the helium in the reserve, with an additional 10 percentage points added ever year to the auction.

In the final phase, the reserve would continue to operate with 3bn cubic feet of helium available only to supply federal customers.

Helium is used across many sectors, including manufacturing, medical diagnostics, welding, aerospace and research.

Under current law, the Federal Helium Reserve is set to close its doors in the first week of October, when the programme’s debt will be repaid, the US Department of the Interior has said.

Back in March, a US House committee approved its own legislation to continue federal operation of the reserve.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved by voice vote the “Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act”, which essentially provides that the federal government will continue to operate the helium reserve under existing terms for another year.

Thereafter, semi-annual helium auctions would be held to achieve a more open and competitive purchasing process and ensure a better return for taxpayers, according to the committee chairman, Representative Doc Hastings (Republican-Washington).

That process would continue until the federally owned helium reserve is drawn down to some 3bn cubic feet when public sales will be ended and that volume will be available only for federal national security and government scientific purposes.

Both the House and Senate bills still must reach the floor for votes.

By: Jeremy Pafford
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