Apparently, while we were all focusing on potential oil and natural gas shortages, another scarcity sneaked up on us. Hide the hot-air balloons, we have a helium shortage. The majority of the world's proved helium supplies are actually in the vicinity of Amarillo, Texas, which has been producing the gas since before World War II. The Federal reserve of helium was created after the war, utilizing the gas during the Space Race. After being in debt $1.4 billion, the reserve was privatized in 1996, with the intention of reducing the reserves to just 600 million cubic feet by 2015. Six local refineries were responsible for producing the gas, however, Julie Roberts, account manager for ThinkPR Scotland Ltd. says the refineries will no longer be able to produce at full capacity. At this point you might just roll your eyes and say "So what?" But helium serves important functions besides having party balloons float and making people sound like Munchkins. The gas is used in MRI scanners due to the substance's unique properties of reaching the low temperatures required by superconducting magnets. In Asia, it is in high demand for the manufacture of semiconductors, flat panel displays and fiber optics. The good news is, there are high helium reserves in Algeria and Qatar. The bad news is, the Algeria reserves will not be at full production until 2011 and the Qatar plant will not be completely ready until later this year. Once these are in effect, we can expect a reduction in helium prices. Until then, we'll just have to blow off that trip on the Goodyear Blimp. –Stephen Payne, Editor, Oil and Gas Investor This Week;