The U.S. Senate Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would secure the supply of helium, a gas that is crucial to manufacturing of goods in many industries, including the fabrication of semiconductors.
The Senate voted 97-2 in favor of a substitute amendment to the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527), a bill previously passed by the U.S. House of Representations. Both bills would allow the Federal Helium Reserve to continue selling helium to private entities.
“Senate passage of this legislation represents important progress toward addressing the looming global helium shortage, which threatens to harm many industrial and scientific users of helium and undermine critical manufacturing, health care, and research operations across the U.S.,” said Brian Toohey, president and CEO of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) trade group, in a statement.
Toohey urged congressional leaders to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill to move compromise legislation to President Barack Obama to sign. Previously, the House and Senate have disagreed over how to use proceeds generated from the sale of helium by the Helium Reserve.
In addition to its key role in manufacturing, helium also has critical applications for scientific research and other technologies, including medical devices like MRI machines, chemicals, aerospace and fiber optics, according to the SIA.
The Federal Helium Reserve was established in the 1920s and has been operated by the federal government ever since. It contains about one-third of the world’s helium supply and roughly 40 percent of the U.S. supply.
Under current law, beginning Oct. 7, the Helium Reserve will no longer be allowed to sell helium to private companies and scientists.