The world now faces a helium shortage, thanks to an ill-advised federal sale of its dwindling stockpiles begun in 1996. Helium cools MRI scanners, particle accelerators, and the chips in your smartphone. It cleans rocket tanks, keeps deep-sea divers breathing, and may yet fill our skies with airships. (Hydrogen, not helium, blew up the Hindenburg.)
As with shale oil, it takes fracking to mine helium. Miners feel lucky to capture the element in 1- or 2-percent concentrations, says state geologist M. Lee Allison. But the Holbrook Basin and the Four Corners area might yield concentrations of up to 8 percent.