High on Helium

Selling off stockpiles.

A year after the helium plant near Amarillo, Texas, started selling the stuff to private buyers, local officials say that levies on the sales have generated enough revenue to justify a cut in tax rates. Residents can thank the Helium Privatization Act of 1996, which authorized the government to sell off its long-derided stockpile of the gas.

The Helium Reserve Program began in 1925, when the War Department longed to create a fleet of fighter blimps. The government eventually concluded that slow, melon-shaped vehicles are not well suited for warfare. Nonetheless, in 1960 the program ballooned to include refining and storage facilities, which grew to hold 32 billion cubic feet of helium.

Under the law, the Bureau of Land Management must sell off the entire stockpile between 2005 and 2015. The total proceeds are expected to be $1.8 billion, ranking this among the largest federal privatizations.�

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