Although cryogenic applications in magnetic resonance imaging, semiconductor processing and basic research consume the largest portion of the helium market presently, this light, inert gas has many other uses. NASA uses it in the pressurizing and purging of its rocket engines while civilian industries use approximately 13 million scm annually in various welding applications. By the time one accounts for helium's role in atmospheric control and leak detection as well as its obvious use as a lifting gas, it is clear that the industry is an important part of the U.S. economy.
Helium is a non-renewable material here on earth. About 80% of global reserves are in the American Southwest, created as a by-product of refining natural gas. Dr. Richardson recommends raising prices drastically, so a helium balloon would run around $100, to reflect the value of the gas inside.
World helium reserves are running out, Nobel laureate claims [telegraph.co.uk]