From Physics Today, earlier this summer comes this update: "Helium shortage hampers research and industry"
The situation is likely to become even more dire in the near future. Kornbluth and Leslie Theiss, field office manager at the US Bureau of Land Management's helium operations in Amarillo, say the worldwide demand for helium is growing, fueled at least in part by the growth of high-tech manufacturing in China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Companies in those countries use helium in the production of semiconductors, flat-panel displays, and optical fibers.Bob Park said pretty much the same thing a few years ago. I would imagine that this peak and decline will play out in some quite unexpected ways. Professional clowns will feel the hurt first and the hardest.
Meanwhile, the tightened supply and higher costs are prompting efforts in both academia and industry to convert to dry cryostats, or closed-cycle refrigerant units, which eliminate the need to replenish helium. But the systems don't suit everyone. They're costly—up to $50 000 apiece, according to Allen Goldman, a physicist at the University of Minnesota. And some units' base temperatures are limited, able to bring helium down to only 2.7 K, not cold enough for all types of research.
Until other sources are developed, industry officials warn, the worldwide helium supply will continue to be squeezed. "We're producing everything we can here but it just isn't enough," says Theiss.