Cost of inflation: Huskers end balloon release over helium shortage

Rising cost of inflation: University of Nebraska to end tradition of releasing red balloons at football games due to worldwide helium shortage ‘linked to Russian sanctions over war in Ukraine’

  • Nebraska’s gameday tradition of fans releasing helium-filled red balloons to celebrate the Cornhuskers’ first touchdown is ending due to a helium shortage
  • Balloons have been handed out to fans near the stadium entrance since the early 1960s. They are traditionally released after the Huskers’ first TD at home games
  • However, athletic director Trev Alberts said on his radio show Monday night that a global shortage of helium led to the decision to end the practice 
  • Russia is one of the top helium suppliers, and Alberts said US sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine have exacerbated a shortage around the world
  • Alberts said university leaders want the helium that would have been used in the balloons to go to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for medical use
  • Helium supplies have been dwindling for years, but a series of recent shutdowns of processing plants, as well as increased demand, has created a scarcity

Nebraska’s gameday tradition of fans releasing helium-filled red balloons to celebrate the Cornhuskers’ first touchdown is ending due to geopolitics and environmental concerns. 

Balloons have been handed out to fans near the stadium entrance before games since the early 1960s. However, athletic director Trev Alberts said on his radio show Monday night that a global helium supply shortage led to the decision to end the practice.

Russia is one of the top helium suppliers, and Alberts said US sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine have exacerbated a shortage that began years earlier. Alberts said university leaders want the helium that would have been used in the balloons to go to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for medical use.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=uA9z0pmr8So%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26hl%3Den-US

A release of balloons into the November sky celebrates Nebrask’a first touchdown of the game against the Colorado Buffaloes during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Colorado 45-17

The Nebraska Cornhuskers sell balloons to be released after the first score against the Iowa Hawkeyes before the game at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2021 in Lincoln

‘While we’re still concerned about the environmental impact of the balloons, the reality is acquiring helium in today’s day and age, given some of the challenge and some of the production of it, is really challenged and it’s been hard to get’ Alberts said on the Huskers’ ‘Sports Nightly’ radio show.

‘And so, we are this year not going to be providing the red balloons for the first time at Memorial Stadium.’

The Huskers’ home opener is September 3 against North Dakota. 

Other factors reduced worldwide helium supplies even before Russian sanctions were enacted. For instance, a new natural gas processing plant in Siberia went off line due to a fire in September of 2021 and an explosion in January.

Those disasters, coupled with shutdowns at processing plants in Texas, Algeria and Qatar, also contributed to the worldwide helium shortage, according to an April piece by Physics Today. Of the world’s top five major helium producers, all but one were rationing supplies to customers as recently as April.

In this September 15, 2018, file photo, Nebraska fans release red balloons after a touchdown against Troy during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb. Nebraska’s gameday tradition of fans releasing helium-filled red balloons to celebrate the Cornhuskers’ first touchdown is ending. Balloons have been handed out to fans near the stadium entrance before games since the early 1960s. Athletic director Trev Alberts announced on his radio show Monday night, a global shortage of helium led to the decision to end the practice

The release of balloons at football games has drawn criticism for at least a decade because of environmental concerns. The university’s student government, in a symbolic move, voted in November to end the tradition. 

Previously, a lawsuit filed by an Omaha man in 2016 claimed the balloons were a health hazard to birds and other wildlife when they return to the ground.

US District Judge Laurie Smith Camp dismissed that case, saying that the University of Nebraska was a state agency and has sovereign immunity from such lawsuits.

Krause had argued that the balloon release puts at risk some 60 endangered species.

‘The mass release of Husker balloons puts virtually all species of birds, turtles, marine mammals and small animals…in harm’s way,’ the lawsuit said.

Nebraska cheerleader Jake Jundt runs with the N flag as fans release balloons in celebration of the first Husker touchdown of the game against Fordham in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, September 4, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln

Small children are at risk of choking or suffocating if they try to eat the popped balloons, Krause said in the lawsuit, which he drafted and filed himself.

The suit didn’t offer any evidence that a child has ever choked on a deflated red balloon from Memorial Stadium. And while there were several pictures offered of dead and injured birds and turtles from balloons, the lawsuit didn’t specifically link the balloons in the photos to the Lincoln tradition.

Krause said the mass release results in the open dumping of solid waste, which violates the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The passage of that act, he argued, amounted to Congress repealing states’ immunity.

Camp disagreed, citing case law that ‘concludes the clear language (of the Act) demonstrates Congress did not intend to abrogate states’ sovereign immunity from suit.’

Huskers fans release balloons at Memorial Stadium after the first touchdown of a 2018 game

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