That article reads a lot like "Peak Oil" concerns. There is a lot of Helium available -  The global reserves of helium are known to be approximately 41 billion cubic meters. Most of them lie in Qatar, Algeria, the USA and Russia. Annual global production of helium is about 175 million cubic meters, and the USA remains the largest producer. "
Regardless, this is something the market can correct for very, very easily. As helium supply becomes more scarce, the price will go up, resulting in greater supply. Most of it comes from natural gas, and is so cheap  it's not worth capturing. Oil trades for around $100/barrel. Helium trades at $100 for a thousand cubic feet (albeit in gas form)
Some of the problems with Helium is that Physics experiments use a LOT, and previously was so cheap that it wasn't worth trying to conserve. That's changing -  A recycling system can recapture about $12,000/year of lost helium for a single scientist.
From reading articles - apparently the problems isn't so much that the cost of helium is increasing - but that it's been so cheap because of the US Natural Reserves making it completely non-competitive to capture - they are basically giving the stuff away for next to nothing.
 http://finance.yahoo.com/news/airgas-increase-prices-helium-... And on Friday, the bureau announced that it was raising the price for a thousand cubic feet for crude helium from $84 to $95
41 billion cubic meters / 7 billion people = less than six cubic meters per person on the planet, and when it's gone it's gone. That does not sound so hot.
"Blow out the candles! Blow them out, quick!"
In my mind, any decisions made based on markets are a short-term strategy. If a resource is non-renewable, I prioritize conservation. Where practical, I use renewable resources.
Wavering around $55/barrel at the moment.
This is something I don't really trust. We see that with oil and environmental concerns - when things get scarcer, subsidies start, distorting the price. Should we really put our hopes in the market, praying that it will save us?
As a result, the true cost of these new resources is greater than it appears, and furthermore the external costs in our poorer health, the destruction of our environment, and the corruption of our political system, make up a greater portion of the total cost of the resource, than previous methods of extraction. There is no reason to believe this trend will reverse.
 Complain all you want that this isn't "true" capitalism. I don't care. The fact is we've decided that pricing these externalities directly into the market is too hard or has too much overhead, and so we patched over it with laws. If you want to change that, go ahead and try, but don't advocate weakening legislation to force someone to deal with these externalities until after you're successful.
Yes, you're right. I overreacted, a lot. So I removed it.
But, I stand by the sentiment. This place is downright hostile to productive discussion. Your account can have a dozen or so hexes capriciously placed on it by the mods - and you'll never know directly if this was done, to say nothing of why it was done. A single downvote will grey out your post, as if the community needs to be protected from your thoughts because one jerk decided he would downvote your post (in this case so quickly after I made the post that I wonder if he even bothered to read it all).
HN members worry about 'becoming Reddit' without stopping to wonder if that would be an improvement. From a moderation and forum software standpoint, at least, it unequivocally would be an improvement. I don't want to be a part of this community anymore.
> (in this case so quickly after I made the post that I wonder if he even bothered to read it all)
I think I got used to this. Sometimes you can get a few quick downvotes (or upvotes) immediately after posting, but the score usually settles to a reasonable value within an hour. I used to be nervous about downvotes, but eventually learned not to sweat it.
> HN members worry about 'becoming Reddit' without stopping to wonder if that would be an improvement.
I hate that meme here. There are a lot of subreddits that have quality discussions similar to HN. It's not fair to use Reddit as an example of a site that went downhill, because in reality it didn't.
> From a moderation and forum software standpoint, at least, it unequivocally would be an improvement.
I don't frequent Reddit enough to have an opinion on moderation policies (I'm a die-hard HN junkie), though I will second the argument about forum software. For me, Reddit's UX seems to give optimal threaded discussion experience. I wish HN would borrow at least the ability to cancel-out accidental downvote as well as an "inbox" for reply notifications (right now I'm working around it with HN Notify - I wonder how many HNers are also doing this).
> I don't want to be a part of this community anymore.
Please stay. I actually looked through your comments ( ;) ) and I see you contributing interesting viewpoints while keeping a civil tone. We need you. Good people disappearing is the very process by which a community gets destroyed.
There is also what appears to be a purposeful set of hurdles put in place for newer users so features that are useful and common on other sites are absent, but not impossible to achieve. I suspect there's some interesting conversations behind the scenes about this. I doubt it's as simple as being elitist or not wanting to put the work in. Possibly it's engender feelings of achievement or customization from those that find solutions to the problems, which the actual purpose of promoting specific user behavior. Possibly it's to slow discussion in some cases, so as to promote reasoned discussion.
Whatever the reasoning, I find that I personally take more time with HN replies. I choose my words carefully. I temper my opinions when there's few or no references to back them up; I find the quickest way to cause misunderstandings and antagonistic replies is to be absolutist in statements that do not deserve to be, even if it's an artifact of communication and not the intent. I find the more care I put into my comments, the more useful the replies I get. Not that I won't be corrected if wrong, but that the corrections are more productive, contain more real information, and are more willing to engage in a useful discussion.
In the end, my pet theory is that HN forces a different type of discussion, and when people come in with expectations that it will be like some other discussion site, or similar to discussions sites in general on the internet, it appears close enough, but the inconsistencies eventually grate. I think there's a certain beauty in the subtlety of that, and my inability to know for sure whether it's all in my head or there really is that much care put into the system doesn't reduce it in the slightest.
Yes, you probably would, because even if you don't heat your house, it's unlikely that your individual decision will have any measurable affect on the condition of the planet in the future.
This isn't the case like with rare elements. And with most of those, even, we can recycle them indefinitely (we'll never run out of platinum).
Helium literally floats away to where we can never get it again.
This is completely natural, rational, and built in to how markets work. No need to pray.
People who run extractive industries end up with a lot of money and are tied to specific geographical areas. Lobbying government for concessions is a high ROI activity, and always has been.
On the other side of the coin, government can break these industries too. (And does so routinely) For example, the US/Saudi mutual strategic interest now has the Saudis pumping oil as fast as possible to hurt Russia and other players. If you're a driller in North Dakota or Alberta, you're fucked.
Please do not speak for others.
"businesses in bed with politicians"
Isn't that a failure of the law system or, more general, "our democracy" itself? Some corrupt company in XY has no ties with you but government has (at least that's the theory). So how come government (i.e., the people there) is still getting paid by your taxes while they are clearly not acting on your behalf?
Blaming capitalism is like blaming the guy who slept with your wife instead of blaming your wife (and most probably you should also blame yourself to some extent).
"For businesses, it's a tool like any other, to use in competing on the market."
Well, for the businesses receiving a subsidy it's clearly a tool while the businesses and people paying for it much less so.
To sum up, the subsidies you talk about are neither "capitalistic" nor "democratic" so we shouldn't derive conclusions about capitalism or democracy here.
We can very well derive conclusions about the current economic system called "free market" and the current political system called "democracy" but we should agree on the definition first.
Keep in mind that the golden age of capitalism was the beginning of Industrial Revolution - it took a lot of blood and subsequent regulations to get us to the point we're not slaving away 16hrs/day in a sweatshop only to die early because some "entrepreneur" sold us poison.
It also has the capacity to be a great deal stupider, because it lacks the immediate feedback of the market spanking it.
It is not sufficient to just wave the word government at a problem. You need to do a full analysis of the incentives and demonstrate they are better. Just as raw capitalism has the obvious problems of a short-term focus, being driving by money above all else, and the issues of externalities being imposed on others, governments have the obvious problems of regulatory capture by interest groups, internal bureaucratic inefficiencies, creating high-level administrators who don't particularly care about the problem and just use the regulations as tokens in a war of turf-building, and being driven by politics above all else. And that's just the high-level table-of-contents of the problems both can have.
Governments are perfectly capable of deciding that up is down, blue is red, and don't you DARE question them or you're unpatriotic and we're going to lock you up, and they're amazingly capable of retaining these beliefs for far beyond their best-by dates because they have the power to just bull through whatever problems may arise (until they suddenly run out).
In the particular case of a supply problem it is not at all clear to me that letting the normal mechanisms of supply and demand handle it is that catastrophic... these issues happen all the time and you don't even notice. Again, let me emphasize, this happens daily. It's what the markets deal with. It's not like this is some bizarre scientific theory, it's to the level of engineering. We do it all the time.
The only case that I'm aware of in which government regulation has successfully protected a limited resource is the fishing fields of Iceland, and they fixed that issue by creating a system of ownership--i.e. capital--where there was only the commons before.
Only if you're applying favorable "principles" to government but not doing the same for the market. If you're treating government as a black box that acts as a perfect aggregate of the population's preferences, then yes, it can maximize economic efficiency (or probably accomplish whichever other goal you have, like egalitarianism, utilitarianism, etc.). But if you do that, it's only fair to treat the market as a black box that does exactly the same thing.
Of course, neither the government nor the market can act as a perfect aggregate of the population's preferences.
> The government can, in principle, just arbitrarily decide that maybe, just maybe, we need to care about surviving for longer than next fiscal quarter or at least try and not create ourselves a hell on Earth.
To use your example, the market can also in principle just arbitrarily decide that maybe, just maybe, we need to care about surviving for longer than next fiscal quarter or at least try and not create ourselves a hell on Earth. There's no rule in the market that says a rich capitalist, or even a group of private companies, can't just spend a bunch of resources on whatever you're talking about.
Even as early as Henry Ford (in positing that greater leisure time for workers was good for the business as well, as it increased per-hour productivity and created a larger consumer class), we see capitalists bucking such simplistic and reductive thinking. Also, the only modern movements towards reducing working hours lately has been from private industry as well.
I don't think there is any principle to any study of government or economics that says what you have said. Government has the capacity to enforce laws. Beyond that, what those laws are, for whose benefit they are written, that's not guaranteed. To hope that a government will adopt a certain policy for humanitarian reasons is wishful thinking.
But, if you can make an economic case for a certain policy, then it becomes much, much harder for people--either businesses or governments--to ignore.
That may be true, but the US had a "strategic helium reserve" that we decided to sell off for no reason I can discern. I have more trust in people who are trying to maximize the amount of money they make than Congressman who can be bought and sold more easily than helium.
What is more often the case: a regulation coming into form to protect the consumer from the evils of corporations, or that regulation actually forming to protect an entrenched corporation against competitors?
We, as a society, all make up the market. When you put a monopoly power in control over it--i.e. a government--you open the door to abuse of that power, as there is no alternative. You create a single point of failure for society.
At least that's how stocks work. If something will be in high demand/price in the future, it will shift and be in high demand now.
It's like other "mined" raw materials.
Coal takes millions of years to form, requires large quantities of vegetation/animal life and large areas of land. If you charged based on replacement cost then coal prices would be effectively infinite.
As with helium. Helium doesn't bond with other atoms to make heavier molecules and so eventually leaks from the atmosphere after release. In order to recover a supply you're going to need to capture it from radioactive decay or do extraterrestrial mining or some similar high cost activity. So it's [comparatively] an infinite replacement cost. However, it's released as a by-product and we currently have enough. When we run out of natural gas sources we'll run out of our main He source too and using helium will become extremely expensive. Even at that point we'll still not be paying the "replacement" cost, just the cost of extracting from more expensive sources.
We should be, as a race, preserving helium but there is currently no economic incentive, the incentive lies in the future when our current round of magnates and politicians will likely be dead.
One of my first jobs was working in a welding supply shop, and I was astonished to find out that a '100lb' cylinder (they're filled by weight/pressure) of helium was nearly $200. As a comparison, a '100lb'of propane was only about $40.
Are speculators already doing this, driving up the price?
Most of the standard cylinders are fairly secure.
A lot of the time I spent during my job there was preparing cylinders for testing, to assure that they were pressure-secure and airtight. Neat stuff, and a TON of practical physics went into everyday things there. :)
By number of atoms, it is much more (a factor of 10 or so).
I presume the leakage loss in storage also raises the price of Helium. People buy propane just-in-case knowing they can store it forever while helium is a "buy it before you use it" kind of thing.
Trying to do the same for small amounts of helium collected here and there is possible but not economically feasible. It makes more sense to use it as balloon gas.
The price of Tuna is set of "how expensive is it to produce a can of tuna" rather than "how many tuna are left in the ocean".
In fact, the lower the production cost of tuna fishing, the higher the risk that we empty the ocean of all the tuna.
It's really a problem of the Tragedy of the commons. There is no cost of tuna in the ocean, except the cost of fishing it. So it's a commons, and it will be overexploited.
also: be sure to understand
If I sell fruit but I get it by stealing it from a neighbour then I'll be able to afford to sell the fruit at a far lower cost than the cost of manufacture and still get a profit.
The problem comes when the threshold is reached and passed. That is specifically the tragedy of the commons. It's a fractal problem - i.e., even if one country fixes the issue through regulation/taxes/prohibition, another country may still overfish a shared body of water.
The "full cost" wouldn't need to be replacing each fish caught. It would be a fee/tax to ensure a sustainable fish population - this could still result a reasonable market for fish.
In the past we fished at sustainable levels because we were incapable of fishing to extinction. WWF (http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/pr...) say we're taking 2-3 times the volume of fish from the oceans as is sustainable.
It really seems like the FDA or FTC should be able to regulate that a little bit.
One thing people seem to not know is that helium is a common discarded byproduct of oil extraction. Nuclear fission in the earth's core produces it, and it gathers in porous underground oil reservoirs. I'd bet my life that as prices of helium go up, these deposits get more attention paid to them.
I'm not convinced that a shortage of helium will be a crisis.
The shortage of rare earths has been because it has been uneconomical to extract with any sort of environmental regulation in place. China has almost none of them and has obtained a near monopoly for that reason. Here the "there is no shortage ever" arguments from economists make sense. For helium, the situation is different. The helium that is there is relatively easy to extract (it is a certain percentage in some natural gas fields), but once it is gone it is gone forever.
Basically all other elements we can do some recycling and recapturing somehow; once leaked helium is just gone forever.
This is quite an interesting hypothesis for those interested ...
Deep-Earth reactor: Nuclear fission, helium, and the geomagnetic field
No: we will never run out of helium, it's just a question of price (which is likely to go up).
There is a method of actually producing helium: as a product of nuclear decay, smaller quantities of helium (He) could be made in nuclear power plants.
Nevertheless, as @ghshepard says, in the short and medium-term supply will simply come from other natural gas fields if/when the price goes up.
The Helium-scarcity misunderstanding is the same as with almost every other historical feared resource depletion. At current prices and production methods, supply is finite, but at higher price points, new production methods become economically viable.
A higher helium price means two things: reduced demand by shifting to substitutes and increased production by using more expensive production technologies (and of course, if the price goes up more people will try to innovate cheaper solutions).
Today helium is practically free. While we would never run out of Helium, it is not unlikely that at some point prices may go up for a while. That, however, is not really such a big deal.
"We're running out of X" is always louder than "We've found another way to extract it, sound the alarms again in forty years." Then we'll come up with some other method, and they'll set back the Malthus Doom Date by another forty years. And eventually, someone will come up with a completely different alternative that doesn't use it at all, and a previously vital resource will only have niche applications.
Of course, in some cases, the alternative might require a lot of hardship. I'm sure we'd get by if gasoline was 20 bucks a gallon. It would suck, and all of us would be driving motor scooters and riding bicycles to work, but we would get by.
When I lived in Arizona, I was driving about 50 kilometers per day. There was no bus or train, as there just weren't enough passengers to make it worth building. Driving was the only option unless I was going to bike 50 kilometers per day in the heat.
Here in Oregon, there are bus routes, but it would take me more than an hour to get to work on the bus. By car, it's about ten minutes. I could definitely bike to work, but it rains a lot here. :)
Incidentally, a huge hike in gas prices would probably force a lot of people to move to the cities. They'll need public transport to get to work if they can't drive. But seeing as how city living is so expensive, they'll probably keep driving (smaller cars and motor scooters) for as long as they can.
For comparison, Norway is larger than Arizona, with a smaller population (or a bit larger than New Mexico and a bit smaller than Montana, with a much higher population than those two - so clearly you do have some areas that truly are rural enough for public transport to be hard to do right; then again, California is not that much larger, and most of California still has an atrocious public transit system...).
Yes, there certainly are areas where you can't really get by without a car, in Norway, so it's not like I'm expecting public transport to be viable everywhere in Arizona either. But in Norway that's because very few people live there. Just like the US low overall population density is largely down to vast practically empty areas. "Nobody" cares if there's no public transport in the middle of Alaska, or in the rural parts of states like New Mexico and Montana that have low population density to start with, and are pretty much "empty" outside a few cities.
And oil is not the explanation - most of Norways public transport system predates the oil exploration, and was built at a time when Norway was far less wealthy than the US.
The ten lowest density US states have lower average population density than Norway, but they "only" house about 12 million people. And even for the rest of the country, most of the low density states still have higher density clusters. The top ten states house about 170 million people, with an aggregate population density of around 200 per square mile - far above places like Norway.
It other words: Distance is an excuse. It's down to politics and a culture centered around the car.
Sure, public transport will never cover 100% of journeys, but that's not the point.
Unfortunately the only way to fix it would be to have city ordinances which specify parking maximum and maximum offset from the street for a building.
The point was it was amusing to see someone suggest that private transport was the essential point of oil, so that if prices increased, it would just mean worse private transport. When of course, at those levels, it would mean the end of wide-spread private transportation as such (and the end of american urbanization as its currently known).
It's true that we won't run out completely, but reducing the supply by orders of magnitude could well be a big deal. We'll have plenty for a while from natural gas, but at some point we're going to have to stop extracting all that fossil fuel, and that will interfere with helium production too.
There was an incident in my area several years ago where a rebreather diver missed a step in his pre-dive checks and jumped off the boat with his oxygen valve off. By the time he swam to the anchor line he had consumed most of the oxygen in the loop (while probably not noticing the alarms), passed out, and drowned. That was user error but the fact remains that if he had been using open circuit gear, a simple error like jumping off the boat with a closed tank valve almost certainly wouldn't have killed him.
Helium is on of the noble gasses -- they either do not react or react only very reluctantly with other elements.
Combined with helium's low molecular weight, and since gaseous helium is atomic helium, free helium tends to escape into space.
And as Douglas Adams noted: Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space.
There's little chance that pure gold could be profitably recovered from space. Let alone helium.
And yes, strictly per economic theory (which is very practical) we will never run out of Helium. Just the price will rise up to the point when alternatives (and a research into) will became economical.
But on further examination...
helium is about 0.1785g/l
1 cubic foot = 28.317 litres
So 1 cf. of He has a mass of ~5.05g
Cern use 120 metric tons of He in the LHC beam tube magnets alone (http://home.web.cern.ch/about/engineering/cryogenics-low-tem... ), so let's say 200 tons at all of CERN, as the beam tube magnets are a pretty major application, and the other accelerators (PS/SPS/etc.) are considerably smaller and slower and have less intensive requirements, and other experiments altogether probably use a fair, but not crazy amount.
So... 200 tons of helium equates to 200000000/5.05 = 39.6 million cubic feet, at STP.
So, lots and lots of helium, but not 1/3 of the world's supply.
Oh, fun fact - that amount of helium would be enough to lift 1100 tonnes of payload from the ground... about two fully laden 747s.
And what about that are you still not getting, exactly?
Well, obviously the core concept, Lana!
So I would say that no, we're not running out of helium, by any meaningful definition of "running out".
Kids balloons aren't a particularly high demand use.
This post is a proof that the right time of a post is crucial to popularity. I posted the same link ( actually I'm not sure how HN passed this one through ) a couple of months ago  and it was not as popular ;)
The top current answer is basically
> there is no way to cheaply make more
Which applies to anything in existence, everything will run out, hence a pointless waste of time statement that moronic philosophers pull out when they are ignorant on the topic.
Later links are more interesting, like -