Senate Passes Helium Reserve Bill

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The 97 to 2 roll call vote in favor of the bi-partisan bill (H.R. 527) virtually guarantees the U.S. Helium Reserve will stay open past the October 7 deadline to close it.

The House had already voted once in favor of the legislation and simply needs to approve the version passed by the Senate. Furthermore, Reuters reported that the White House has said it will support the bill, the last component H.R. 527 needs to become a law.

The two lone Senators that voted against the bill were Ted Cruz of (R-Tex) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala). Both identify with the Tea Party and have a close eye on their popularity at home. Senators Cruz has shown signs of seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and Senator Sessions is up for reelection in 2014.

Backers of the bill say keeping the U.S. Helium Reserve open is necessary because private suppliers of helium are not ready to fill the huge gap in the market that would be created if the U.S. government suddenly exited the helium supply market. Quickly closing the U.S. Helium Reserve — a massive underground storage facility for helium run by the Interior Department — could destabilize the helium market and lead to shortages and large increases in prices. Just the threat of the closure had created such issues in recent years and negatively affected a 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.

Currently, the reserve provides 42 percent of U.S. crude helium and 35 percent of world supplies, Reuter’s reported.

The Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) was one of the more than 100 organization’s that had written to Congress urging passage of the bill. It issued a statement in support after the vote.

“MITA applauds Senators Wyden and Murkowski and the entire Energy and Natural Resources Committee for their leadership in securing a nearly-unanimous vote on legislation to prevent the closure of the Federal Helium Reserve,” said Gail Rodriguez, executive director of MITA in the statement. “We urge the House to vote immediately to avert the helium cliff and ensure the well-being of countless patients who hang in the balance.”