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Helium, one of the completely inert gases and a short time ago considered a rare gas, has become important in many ways. Large quantities are being used in metallurgical processes, in the development of nuclear power and in national defense. First discovered as a constituent of the sun in 1868, and on the earth in 1895, it was only in 1903 that it was found in natural gas. With first commercial production from natural gas on a very limited scale in 1918, the annual production and demand for helium today is approximately 330 million cubic feet--70 times the production in 1937. Increased demands are seen for the future.
Helium is being lost at the rate of more than 3 billion cubic feet per year through the marketing of fuel gas containing it, and there have been few significant discoveries of new helium sources in the last 15 years. The Department of the Interior proposes a helium conservation program that would extract helium from fuel gas going to market and store it for future use. By such a program it is anticipated that an adequate supply of helium will be reasonably assured up to the year 2000. Legislation to provide for such a program has been presented to the Congress for consideration. Private industry would be invited to participate in the program but if it should not indicate a willingness and capability to perform in a reasonable time, the Government would undertake the program as a Gover ment operation.
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