Sunday, December 30, 2012
Here is a little something that The Blog bets you didn't know.
America is suffering from a helium shortage.
A shortage of crisis proportions!
At least, that is what we are being told.
The most that most of us know about helium is that it is a lighter than air gas. It is an element on the "Periodic Table of Elements." It makes balloons float. And, if you take a hit from one of those balloons, you will talk like a munchkin for a minute or so.
Mrs. Blog, being a school teacher, is a regular consumer of helium, not to talk funny, but to inflate balloons for birthdays, graduations and other classroom celebrations.
For many years, she bought disposable tanks of the gas from the local party store.
Several years ago, the parents of a class bought her a refillable 50 psi tank.
At the time, and for several years, the cost of refilling a tank was about $25. About ten dollars less than the disposable 25 psi tank.
About two years ago, the price began to climb.
By the beginning of 2012, the price to refill that tank had climbed to $60.
Her helium supplier, a local welding and gas place, told us that there was a shortage that was driving the price up.
There came a point that the supplier told us that Mrs. Blog should probably look for another supply source, who might be able to charge less than they could.
By late spring, she was back to buying 25 lb. disposable tanks from the party store for about $35.
By Halloween, things got weirder.
The party stores were running out of the disposable tanks. And, soon after that, even their own balloon counter was finding themselves without the gas.
"Wow!" thought The Blog. "It isn't just petroleum based products that we are depleting. We are running out of helium, too!"
Now, The Blog has no idea where helium comes from. He has taken the various suppliers at their word.
Which brings me to two weekends ago.
The Blog had the rare opportunity to visit, so close that I could touch it, the docking site of a Goodyear blimp.
The BlogDad posing in front of his company's competition's mascot.
And, a conversation with the blimp's pilot.
An interesting guy.
He got the piloting job because of his experience as a sailor. Because, piloting a blimp is more like sailing than flying a plane.
It makes sense. But, who knew?
The Blog asked the blimp captain how the helium shortage was affecting the blimp business.
The captain chuckled and his answer was eye-opening.
"A.)" he said," Goodyear stockpiles helium, buying several years worth of supply at a time. So our cost has remained stable, for now. B.)" he continued, "There is no shortage of helium. There is a shortage of refineries."
"Until about six years ago, helium refineries were a public utility. The U.S. owned about 60 refineries. They were owned by the federal government, making helium cheap and plentiful and keeping prices stable. Under Bush, the refineries were sold to private companies. Those private owners shut down all but 14 refineries, slowing production and driving prices up."
"Helium prices are now being artificially manipulated to create high profits. Just like California's oil refineries have manipulated gas prices the last few months."
Are you, my blogglitts, getting my point here?
Gas, oil, electricity and yes, helium are products that used to be under public control.
Those things now exist to profit a very few.
Some things should not be "for profit."
Do my right-wing friends get that?
But, there are some things that the government can do, more efficiently and for the benefit of the common good than private, for profit corporations.
Utilities, postal service, healthcare insurance, and yes, helium.
It is past time to wake up to that fact.