Mineral Resources:

Meeting Federal Needs for Helium

RCED-93-1: Published: Oct 30, 1992. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) actions taken by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Mines to meet the objectives of the Helium Act of 1960; (2) issues that should be considered when deciding how to meet federal needs for helium; and (3) three alternatives for meeting federal needs for helium.

GAO found that: (1) the Bureau has met federal needs for helium; (2) the Bureau has conserved helium by purchasing and storing a large amount that would have otherwise been vented into the atmosphere; (3) the Bureau has fostered the development of a private helium industry through crude helium purchases and other actions; (4) the helium program's debt could be cancelled without adversely affecting the overall federal budget; (5) the Bureau could be required to price federal helium comparable to private prices to continue encouraging the private helium-refining industry; (6) competition between the Bureau and the private helium-refining industry could be eliminated by requiring that the Bureau meet all federal needs for helium, while prohibiting the Bureau from meeting any non-federal needs; and (7) decisions would have to be made about allowing private industry access to the Cliffside, Texas, helium storage facility and disposing of the program's capital assets if the Bureau's program is terminated.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L.104-273, October 9, 1996, terminated the federal helium program.

    Matter: Because conditions affecting the Bureau's helium program have changed since the Helium Act of 1960 was passed, Congress should reassess the act's objectives in order to decide how to meet current and foreseeable federal needs for helium.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L.104-273, October 9, 1996, terminated the federal helium program. The law did not cancel the debt. But because there is no federal program anymore, there is no longer any concern about federal competition with private industry.

    Matter: Congress should cancel the debt in the Helium Fund because it is no longer realistic to expect the debt to be repaid by the statutory deadline of 1995 and because cancelling the debt would not adversely affect the federal budget. Cancelling the Bureau's helium program debt, however, would likely allow the Bureau to undercut private industry's refined helium prices, thereby adversely affecting the private helium-refining industry by taking away sales. Therefore, on the basis of a reassessment of the act's objectives, if Congress decides that fostering the private helium industry is still an objective, additional actions would be needed, such as requiring the Bureau to price its helium comparably to private prices or requiring all federal needs to be met by the Bureau but prohibiting the Bureau from selling helium to non-federal customers.

 

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