Helium soars

  @FortuneMagazine July 26, 2013: 10:22 AM ET
FIO12 helium rig

Mining helium in Montana with a rig owned by Bo Sears and Weil Resources Group


Bo Sears, an oilman from Dallas, has been trying to mine helium for years -- but all his potential investors were stuck on party balloons. "We've always known the value of helium as a natural resource. Our problem has been convincing people to put their dollars behind it," Sears says. "It's hard to line up investors who are wondering why they'd want to fill up a bunch of balloons."

The price of crude helium set by the federal government has skyrocketed in the past three years, jumping from $64.75 to $84 per 1,000 cubic feet, as supplies of the element have tightened amid increasing demand, primarily in Asia. The price crunch could get much worse as the Bureau of Land Management -- which supplies about 30% of the global supply of helium -- prepares to shut down the federal helium reserve outside Amarillo, Texas.

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