Remember Peak Helium and the $150 party balloon?

© Mario Tama/ Getty Images

Remember Peak Everything? It seems that a few years ago that’s all we wrote about on TreeHugger, Peak Oil, Peak Water and yes, Peak Helium. The use of helium for frivolous things like party balloons and inflatable Kermits was particularly galling, since it was also needed for scientific uses and for superconductors in MRI machines. The Large Hadron Collider alone needs 120 tonnes of the stuff to keep its magnets 1.9 degrees above Absolute Zero.

Brian Merchant wrote:

These helium party balloons surely rank among the most frivolous products in existence. The prospect of labs around the world disbanding crucial medical and scientific research to make room for crinkly novelty items is stunning in its absurdity. It is a powerful reflection of how reckless the marketplace can be.

However it appears that we can relax a bit; a new supply has been discovered in Tanzania, 54 billion cubic feet of the stuff, enough to fill 1.2 million MRI machines or by my calculation, 288,000 Kermits. That means Macy’s can keep the Thanksgiving parade going for another 18,000 years.

Helium is created by the radioactive decay of Uranium, and gets trapped in rock with natural gas. According to the Guardian,

A team from the UK and Norway uncovered the huge resource after applying expertise gleaned from oil and gas exploration to understand how helium is produced in rocks under the ground and where it accumulates. “This is a significant find,” said Jon Gluyas, professor of geo-energy at Durham University and a member of the discovery team. “There are reserves of helium gas, but they have been depleting quite quickly. The price has gone up 500% in 15 years.”

Brian quoted a researcher in his 2012 story: "I will not be happy if I cannot have a medical scan in my 70s, because we wasted helium on party balloons while I was in my 30s." Apparently he need no longer worry about it personally, it will be another generation’s problem. Just as we keep burning fossil fuels as fast as we can frack them, the party continues, balloons and all. Peak whatever.

Tags: Conservation | Materials


treehugger slideshows