Global Helium Shortage Forcing Party City to Close 45 Stores
By R.J. Johnson - @rickerthewriter
May 13, 2019
The party is coming to an end at dozens of Party City stores thanks to a global helium shortage.
The party supply chain of stores has long been the source for decorations and balloons for all sorts of occasions. However, your child's next birthday party may have to go without helium balloons as the helium prices surge to new highs.
Helium is a naturally occurring gas (and the second most abundant element in the universe), but the sources of it here on Earth are hard to come by. The gas is produced by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, but in order for it to go from a mine to a child's birthday balloon (or MRI machine), it needs to be taken out of natural gas processing and liquefied natural gas production, much like how other fossil fuels are produced.
Only 14 liquid helium plants operate around the entire world. Seven are located in the U.S., which accounts for nearly 55 percent of worldwide production of the gas. Demand for the gas has been high, with domestic reserves being depleted. There are only three sources for the gas: Ras Laffan Industrial City in Qatar, ExxonMobil in Wyoming, and the National Helium Reserve in Texas.
It's not just party balloons that are at risk. Because Helium is an inert gas, it can be used for a variety of industrial applications - including as a coolant for MRI machines. It's also used in semi-conductor manufacturing, space flight, aerospace engineering - the list goes on and on, which has some scientists calling for a ban on party balloons.
Meanwhile, Party City CEO James Harrison said that the chain is focused on finding a new supplier for its helium which they hope will help with their latex and metallic balloon sales.
There's no word on which locations would be closed.