Thu, Sep 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Helium shortage set to deflate global party-goers

AP , CLEVELAND, OHIO

Party planners beware: a global but temporary helium shortage could deflate festive balloons this fall.

The shortage affecting some suppliers results from a series of unconnected events, including delays in getting helium plants on line in Algeria and the Mideast, the US Bureau of Land Management said.

The agency manages public lands, mostly in the West, and their mineral resources. It handles 42 percent of the US production of crude helium, the colorless, odorless gas best known for inflating balloons that is derived from natural gas production.

The US provides more than one third of the world's helium, selling it to private plants for processing.

The various factors involved in the shortage in recent months should be resolved by November, according to Leslie Theiss, who manages the BLM office in Amarillo, Texas, the heart of US production of helium.

The US government helium production remains at 100 percent, but output will be trimmed in the fall for up to two weeks for scheduled maintenance that has already been postponed to reduce further supply disruptions, Theiss said.

Any supply disruptions are most likely to affect occasional users -- such as stores that sell seasonal party balloons -- with year-round contract users in better shape.

In Cleveland, Cornelia Franklin, a member of staff at A Pink Gorilla party-supply store, said she has used the same supplier for 17 years and has been assured that her store will get uninterrupted priority shipments.

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