Helium shortage impacting local businesses

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DENISON, TX -- If you were searching for helium balloons for your Valentine's Day, you may have had a tough time finding them. If you did find them, you may have had to fork over more cash than you expected.

Valentine's Day is the busiest day of the year for balloon fanatic Sharon Sweeney.

"I've been doing balloons since 1985," Sweeney said.

While in the business, Sweeney has blown up millions of balloons, come up with her own techniques and created extravagant balloon décor.

"They just make you happy. No matter what age we deliver to, be it little or to 100, they always make them smile," she said.

But the nationwide helium shortage is deflating business for many retailers like Sweeney.

"The last two years with helium has been the worst I've ever seen it. When you are solely balloons, not being able to get your main ingredient worries you," she said.

She stocked up on helium months in advance, just for Valentines Day, because suppliers are running out of the precious gas to sell. In fact, Dollar Tree in Sherman says they've been out for weeks. Sweeney says the price to fill her helium tank has doubled in the last few months.

"So we've had to double prices," Sweeney said.

When it comes to helium, most of us associate it with blowing up balloons. But, the reality is party supply stores are the low man on the totem pole.

The federal government regulates how helium is divided up. NASA, MRI machines, the welding industry, lasers, all of them need helium, and they get the first cut.

Maintenance problems and construction delays at helium plants worldwide are part of the problem. But it's natural gas drilling that is the primary means of helium production, and private suppliers, that capture helium as a waste product of natural gas, have been unable or unwilling to increase production.

"If natural gas prices are low, there really is very little incentive to produce just the helium," Helium Operations Assistant Field Manager, Samuel Burton said.

That's a big concern for businesses that rely on it, because it means their future is up in the air.

"As long as I've been doing balloons it's always been there and when you call and they say 'I'm sorry, we have no helium' you know, your heart sinks because that's your livelihood.

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