President Obama has signed H.R. 527, the "Helium Stewardship Act of 2013," into law, authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to continue to sell crude helium from the Federal Helium Reserve until September 30, 2014.
The extension is intended to provide time for a more orderly privatization of the reserve, which had been slated for closure on October 7. Closing the U.S. Helium Reserve now would have left a huge gap in the helium market that private suppliers are not yet ready to fill, noted backers of the bill. This would have destabilized the helium market and lead to shortages and large increases in prices affecting a wide variety of industries that rely on helium. This includes MR system manufacturers. Helium is the only element that can sufficiently cool the magnets used in MR systems.
One of the more than 100 groups that had advocated for the bill was the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA). In a statement reacting to the president signing the bill into law, it thanked the president and many of the key legislators that had supported the bill.
Along with keeping the reserve open, the new law also directs the government to use the money made from selling helium to:
- Help rural schools by extending payments to certain counties under the Secure Rural Schools program
- Increase the cap on payments to States that have completed all of their high-priority coal mine reclamation projects
- Provide $50 million for remediation and reclamation of abandoned oil and gas wells within the National Petroleum Reserve
- Provide $50 million to the National Park Service for maintenance and infrastructure projects within national parks
- Reduce the royalty on the value of soda ash and certain related minerals produced on Federal lands to 4 percent for a two-year period