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October 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving with Helium May Be Limited

from the October, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Helium, used in Trimix and Heliox, is well liked by deep wreck divers because it's non-explosive, and its low density reduces the work of breathing under pressure. However, it's an expensive gas, and looks like it will become even more so. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last month that helium is in short supply, and various business that rely on it, from hospitals to balloon shops, report dwindling amounts and increased costs from suppliers.

The U.S. government controls the world's entire supply as a strategic material for military and aerospace development, and much of the country's helium supply (30 percent of the world's supply) is kept in a Texas reservoir that connects to pipelines in Kansas. But according to Congressional testimony last May, that reservoir could run out by 2020. Congress is trying to get private companies to take to helium production, but it's slow going and has resulted in severe price spikes.

What does that mean for divers? More cancelled wreck dives. Mike Convery, co-owner of Pittsburgh Scuba Center in Homestead, PA, called suppliers in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to try to find helium to use on a weekend wreck dive trip at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron. None came through, so he had to cancel the dive. Convery has increased helium prices at his shop from 60 cents to $1 per cubic foot, and is not planning any deep dives until a supplier pulls through. There's a place in New York that has some," he said. "But they have laws about transporting gas across state lines.

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