The United States produces 75 percent of the world’s helium. And roughly 30 percent of that world supply comes from the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, at a huge natural underground reservoir called the Bush Dome.
That supply, according to energy officials, is fast being depleted. Some speculate the usable life of the reservoir could be over in five or six years. ...
In 1996, Congress moved to privatize the federal helium program, requiring that all the government’s helium supplies be sold off by 2015, according to a June report in Popular Mechanics magazine.
Though new private helium production plants are expected to start up in the coming years – a plant is projected to open this fall in Wyoming – private industry hasn’t jumped as quickly to produce helium as Congress hoped.
Because of that, consumers face spiking prices and tightening supplies.
The federal government, which sets helium prices, announced in April that enormous price spikes were coming. Now, distributors around the Triangle are surprising vendors week to week, month to month with increases.
Though businesses are reluctant to talk about what they pay their suppliers for helium, some North Carolina retailers have said a tank that once cost $75 is now more than $200.
Some stores have increased the price of balloons. Others have held off with hopes that prices will go down again.
If the "federal government ... sets helium prices" why do they seem so market-based?