New Year parties were filled with the traditional noisemakers and champagne bottles fizzing; however, any balloons that were dropped were probably sad and droopy-looking, filled with just a little bit of helium, if any at all.
A worldwide shortage of the 'lighter than air' non-renewable gas has not only sucked the air out of party plans, but has deflated the profits of local businesses since last spring's proms, weddings and graduations.
Kya Nelson, manger of Blackfoot's Honk's $1.00 Store, said her store has been out of helium for seven months.
"The lack of helium has definitely hurt our business," Nelson said. "I was told that the government sold off our helium reserves when some of the gas pipelines went down and now they're trying to play catch-up."
Trish Gerber, owner of Balloon Boutique in Blackfoot, said that the helium shortage has severely affected her business of 22 years and she believes that the supply is government-controlled at this point. Gerber said her helium supplier, Norco, warned her months ago that there would be a helium shortage and that within five years there will likely be no helium for novelty purposes. The reasons for the helium shortage vary. It's been said that helium plants have been shut down worldwide and that some of the the main helium pipelines in the United States (especially in Texas) have been shut down or are closed for maintenance
"I cannot get helium. The supply is stuck in Congress like everything else. I've called 10 other other suppliers across the country and no one is even taking on new customers," she said. "There are pockets of it here and there and some local businesses will get it sporadically. The eastern part of the country seems to have a lot but not so much in the West."
"I have no income coming in and a bunch of useless inventory after investing years in my business," she added. "At his point I don't have a backup plan and will have to reevaluate where to go with my business."
Besides being used for filling balloons and making voices squeaky, helium is needed in places like welding shops, radiology departments and hospitals that need it for MRI scanners. Before the shortage, 100 cubic meters of helium could fill around 600 standard 11-inch balloons and cost about $135. Now, a tank that size costs about $195 with the high prices being passed on to the customers.
While suppliers are expected to be cautious with their helium supplies going into 2013, Nelson said that she has heard from Honk's officials that some helium may be headed her way in a few weeks, hopefully in time for Valentine's Day, another popular holiday for balloon sales.