Idiocy, from Guam to Helium

     Rep. Hank Johnson, the Democrat’s response to anything and everything stupid said by anyone who happens to be a Republican, has done it again.

     The House of Representatives was debating a bill on mandating that the continued sale of helium from the Federal Helium Reserve, wince the United States has nearly 80% of the world reserves. While there was plenty of concern on the effects of the crippling effects of a lack of helium on the world markets vs. the problem of lack of future supply, Rep. Hank Johnson’s concerns were geared towards the happiness that balloons bring the hoi polloi, and perhaps also of his own sense of imagination:

     The trivialization of this issue is pathetic.  This is a serious issue that pits legitimate need for helium (helium is critical for the functioning of MRI devises, for example), and the concern of strategic reserves of this element (obtained primarily from select natural gas fields in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) disappearing, leaving critical medical devices, equipment, &c. inoperable (again, MRI devices are an example).

Estimated U.S. fractional helium use by category, by the United States Geological Survey (via Þe Olde Wikipedia)

     The bill, as passed by the House, may end up satisfying no one completely, particularly party balloon aficionado Rep. Johnson:

“In 1996, Congress mandated that the government sell off the vast reserve of helium it had accumulated and stored underground in a natural geologic formation near Amarillo, Texas. Sales of the federal helium reserve began in 2003 and were to continue only until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had recouped the $1.3 billion the government spent accumulating the helium, mostly during the Cold War. BLM will break even this fiscal year, which ends 30 September. Beyond that date, it has no mandate to sell the roughly 370 billion liters of gas that will remain in the ground. That’s a problem because BLM sales now supply 42% of the United States’ demand for helium and 35% of the global demand.

“The House bill would continue sales as they are now conducted for another year. Then, the bill would require at least 60% of the helium to be sold in semiannual auctions. That arrangement is meant to remedy the problem that BLM now charges a below-market price for its helium, which encourages waste and discourages the development of new sources of helium. Finally, when the reserve dips to roughly 85 billion liters of gas (in about 5 years), the House bill would limit sales to federal users, including the holders of extramural research grants. That restriction aims to ensure a supply for federal research for another 10 years or so. The Senate bill is largely similar, although it differs on what fraction of the helium would be auctioned and other details. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the bill on 7 May.”

     Unsurprisingly, Rep. Johnson does not grasp the scientific import of the debate.  At least he has something to keep his mind off of the concern for Guam tipping over…

     Perhaps Rep. Johnson is planning to save Guam from tipping over by lifting up its side with happy fun-time balloons?

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