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Selling the Nation’s Helium Reserve
Helium is critically important to many U.S. scientific, industrial, and national defense sectors. Further, the helium market is rapidly changing, as evidenced by the unforeseen developments on both the supply side and demand side of that market since the 2000 Report was released. Finally, because the Reserve is so large, steps undertaken in connection with it can have unintended consequences, the most pertinent being the effect of the pricing mechanism adopted by BLM pursuant to the 1996 Act on worldwide prices for helium. These considerations merit the development of a more permanent and sustained plan for managing this valuable resource.
In addition, the Federal Helium Reserve is a finite resource and so at some point in the future will be depleted. However, the helium needs of users in the in-kind program will continue. The BLM and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should develop a strategy to address these important future needs.
Recommendation. The Bureau of Land Management should promptly investigate the feasibility of extending the Helium Pipeline to other fields withdeposits of commercially available helium as a way of prolonging the productive life of the Federal Helium Reserve and the refining facilities connected to it.
Recommendation. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) should forma standing committee with representation from all sectors of the heliummarket, including scientific and technological users, to regularly assesswhether national needs are being appropriately met, to assist BLM inimproving its operation of the Federal Helium Reserve, and to respond toother recommendations in this report.
Recommendation. The Bureau of Land Management, in consultation withthe Office of Science and Technology Policy and relevant congressional committees, should commission a study to determine the best method of delivering helium to the in-kind program, especially after the functional depletionof the Bush Dome Reservoir, recognizing that this will not happen until wellafter 2015.
Recommendation. The congressional committee or committees responsiblefor the federal helium program should reevaluate the policies behind theportions of the 1996 Act that call for the sale of substantially all federallyowned helium on a straight-line basis. It or they should then decide whether