A global shortage of helium has finally reached The Bahamas, threatening to pop local businesses dependent on the gas.
While helium production has been on the decline globally for many years now, Vice President of R&R Medical and Welding Supplies Vincent Morley said his company only just started to feel the impact last year.
“From August last year. No, it’s not nothing new. We got some in in late September. We’re working to try to find out what’s going on with the U.S. side of things, but there is an issue there. I also spoke to one of my contacts in China; they also have an issue there too. It’s not just the U.S., it’s a worldwide thing,” he told Guardian Business in an interview yesterday.
The shortage is hurting Bahamian businesses. The majority of party supply stores contacted by Guardian Business yesterday said they were out of helium.
“We’re suffering. Customers call every minute, every day, every night; they text. So we’re trying to do the best we can do. I’m trying to get helium here presently to service the customers,” Morley said.
“We lost a lot of business Valentine’s Day last week. So, we lost a lot of business from that aspect and events.”
Helium is an odorless and colorless gas, and though it is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, it’s not easy to find or store in usable quantities.
Most helium supplies are largely extracted from underground natural gas reserves, and the United States is the global leader in helium production, producing about 75 percent of the world’s helium.
At least one local business has been able to stave off the negative effects of the global shortage.
Manager of Party Mart Nellie Strachan said her business first noticed the effects of the shortage last November.
“Actually, it’s been going on for a couple of years, but it’s only just started to affect us since November. Getting shipments in since that time has been a little harder than usual,” she said.
“Because we bring in our own helium it hasn’t been as bad as those people who purchase helium locally. I’ve been okay, we’ve had a few days when we were out, but not for a long time. We had helium straight through November, December and most of January.”
The hardest part for her company has been managing the rising cost of the gas with customer expectations.
“Helium is very expensive. Now the tanks are running close to $400 per tank. Maybe this will give people a better appreciation, because sometimes we give them the price and they say ‘Oh that’s expensive’,” she said.
“It’s expensive because helium is expensive, and because of the shortage it has become more expensive.”
Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016.
Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News