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Senate Passes Bill To Avert Helium Shortage

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WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — The Senate has approved a bill to avert an impending shutdown of the federal helium reserve in Texas, a key supplier of the lighter-than-air gas used in a wide range of products, from party balloons to MRI machines.

The Federal Helium Program, which provides about 42 percent of the nation’s helium from a storage site just outside Amarillo, is to shut down October 7 as a result of a 1996 law requiring the reserve to pay off a debt by selling its helium.

The debt is paid, but billions of cubic feet of helium remain. Closing the reserve would cause a worldwide helium shortage — an outcome lawmakers from both parties hope to avoid.

The bill the Senate passed Thursday differs slightly from a House-approved bill. President Barack Obama favors the Senate version.

The reserve, established in 1925, holds more than 1 billion cubic meters of helium gas and was initially set up to supply gas for airships.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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