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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is supporting a plan to prevent the Federal Helium Reserve from closing, arguing a shutdown would negatively impact local employers like Praxair and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
Helium has been in the news recently with reports of a worldwide shortage that has driven up the price of the inert gas. The federal government has kept a huge reserve of helium in Amarillo, Texas, since the early 1990s, but decided in the mid-1990s to get out of the helium business. The reserve has been selling off its supply at what many say is below market costs. Meanwhile, private helium refineries have not been built as quickly as anticipated, which has helped drive up the price.
Schumer on Monday appeared at Praxair Inc. in the Town of Tonawanda to offer his support for the Helium Stewardship Act, which is designed to reauthorize operation of the reserve. The legislation also seeks to stimulate development of private sources of helium.
"American manufacturing, high-tech and medical industries are already struggling to deal with helium shortages and cannot afford to have a devastating disruption in the market," Schumer said in a statement.
The Democratic senator said upstate employers including Praxair, Dresser-Rand, Corning Inc., Roswell Park and the University at Buffalo count on access to a reliable and inexpensive supply of helium, for production or research.
The Helium Stewardship Act would keep the reserve open, selling off helium "more carefully" and at market rates, Schumer said. It would also encourage private producers to extract more helium or recycle helium they already have.
The semiconductor industry is also supporting the legislation, saying a domestic supply of helium is critical to its manufacturing process.

mglynn@buffnews.com