Saturday, April 29, 2017

TDEC Denies US Nitrogen Extension Request

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials have denied a request by a Greene County chemical manufacturer  for an eight month extension of the deadline to complete required performance testing on a nitric acid plant that has been plagued with startup problems.
In a three-page letter dated Friday, Michelle W. Owenby, technical secretary to the Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board, wrote that the adverse market conditions and other factors cited by US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo did not meet the definition of a "force majeure" needed to justify an extension.
"Based on the information you have submitted the Tennessee Division of Air Pollution Control has concluded that the facts described in your letter do not constitute a force majeure event and an extension cannot be granted," the letter states.
In addition to adverse market conditions, Velo had cited safety, mechanical and storage problems as reasons for the needed extension.
In his March 10 letter to TDEC requesting the extension Velo stated, "There is no physical way the tests can be performed by the existing deadlines."
US Nitrogen was not immediately available for comment on the denial. The company had asked that a current testing deadline which expired today be extended to Dec. 31, 2017.
As Owenby noted the ammonium nitrate manufacturer already had been granted a one year extension last year.
In making the denial the state official cited the legal definition of a force majeure: "an event that will be or has been caused by circumstances beyond the control of the affected facility."
Examples cited include "acts of nature, acts of war or terrorism or equipment failure or safety hazard beyond the control of the affected facility."
She also noted a dictionary definition which describes a force majeure as an "event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controled."
The state's decision comes as US Nitrogen is recovering from yet another setback in the start up of the nitric acid plant, a key element in the production of ammonium nitrate. On April 19 a blown gasket caused the release of a cloud of toxic nitric acid fumes, triggering a response from state and local emergency management personnel.
An even larger toxic gas release occurred last year and produced a large orange cloud hanging over the Midway manufacturing complex.
In her letter to Velo, Owenby listed the deadlines US Nitrogen must still meet now that an extension has been denied.
Citing the factors US Nitrogen presented in support of an extension, Owenby wrote, "The information shows neither why the operationally  prohibitive nitric acid market demand could not have reasonably been foreseen when scheduling startup nor why providing the necessary amount safe temporary and/or permanent acid storage would lie beyond best efforts when considered prior to startup."
Following the March 19 emission incident, US Nitrogen did succeed earlier this week in restarting the acid plant. State officials were on hand to witness the effort.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

US Nitrogen Restarts Nitric Acid Plant

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

The on-again off-again US Nitrogen nitric acid plant is on-again after a blown gasket caused the emission of dangerous toxic gases.
A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said today that the plant was restarted yesterday and a state inspector was on hand to witness the event.
Kim Schofinski, the spokeswoman, said US Nitrogen officials informed the state that a failed head gasket on an acid heater vent was the cause of last week's emission of nitric acid vapors.
The incident triggered a response from local emergency management officials and an orange haze was visible near the Midway ammonium nitrate facility.
No injuries were reported.
Schofinski said the state investigation of last week's incident is ongoing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Probe of US Nitrogen Emissions Incident Underway

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials have begun an investigation into the release of toxic nitrogen gases at the US Nitrogen facility in Greene County following a Wednesday evening incident.
Eric Ward, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said today that it was too early to determine whether officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will also be drawn into the inquiry.
Ward said the state agency began its investigation this morning.
"It is too early to speculate at this time on any environmental impacts,  potential fines or enforcement actions as a result of this incident," Ward said in an email response to questions.
The Wednesday night incident occurred around 6:30 p.m. and, like a previous misfire, included an orange cloud of nitrogen vapors.
It prompted a late night press conference at the Midway facility by Greene County Mayor David Crum and Sheriff Pat Hankins. Both said the release had been halted by the time they reached the scene.
US Nitrogen reported that there were no injuries to employees and that company officials promptly notified state and local officials of the incident.
Around 6:30 p.m., US Nitrogen experienced a release of nitric acid vapors. The release is dissipating, and no workers were injured.
"For the safety of our workers and the community, US Nitrogen will cooperate with these agencies and will investigate the cause of the release to ensure that the issues are resolved," company Plant Manager Andrew Velo said in a statement to the media. 
Crum and Hankins said nearby residents were instructed to shelter in place until the vapors had dissipated.
Crum did say that the emissions were toxic and could have harmed anyone who came in contact with them. He also promised a local inquiry into the incident which triggered a response from emergency mangement workers.
The Wednesday incident is the latest in a series of problems the company has experienced in starting up the nitric acid plant, a key component in the production of ammonium nitrate,  the company's primary product.
TDEC is currently considering US Nitrogen's request to extend the deadline for the completion of tests on the operation of the acid plant.
Ward said TDEC's role Wednesday was to be on standby to provide technical assistance for US Nitrogen and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency personnel.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dangerous Nitrogen Vapors Trigger Emergency Response.

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Toxic nitrogen vapors were released into the atmosphere late today at the troubled US Nitrogen facility in Midway, bringing a swift response from local emergency officials.
The vapor release, which was apparently quickly contained came as another effort to start up the key phase of the Greene County manufacturing operation failed yet again.
A previous effort produced an orange cloud which hung over the newly erected plant late last summer. Company officials later acknowledged that highly toxic nitrogen fumes had been released.
The latest startup effort began last week, according officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Fire officials were among those to respond today and Greene County Mayor David Crum and Sheriff Pat Hankins held an impromptu press conference declaring that the situation was under control.
"There was a nitric acid vapor release," Crum said, adding that the gas was toxic and could have harmed anyone who came into contact with it.
He and Hankins said there were no reports of injuries although residents in the area were cautioned to stay indoors.
Crum said emergency management responders were at the scene when the problem was first reported around 6:30 p.m.
Crum said that state environmental officials would be investigating and the county would also be seeking answers.
US Nitrogen released a statement acknowledging the vapor release and stating that the company alerted emergency management officials. The company said no employees were injured and they would cooperate with an investigation into the cause.
The emergency comes as TDEC is considering permit extension requests that US Nitrogen says will be needed to complete required continuous monitoring testing of the nitric acid facility. The extension requests come even as the company claimed the plant had reached full capacity.
In one state filing  however, company officials conceded that because of poor marketing conditions they would be unable to sell the ammonium nitrate and byproducts the plant could produce.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

US Nitrogen Use of Nolichucky River Spikes

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen began pumping water from the Nolichucky River at an increased rate in March with a total of 7.6 million gallons drawn, up substantially from recent months, according to a report filed with Tennessee environmental officials.
The report filed last week with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation by US Nitrogen also show over 2.5 million gallons were discharged from the Greene County manufacturing facility during the same period.
The figures in the report come as the Midway ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility continues in its on-again off again efforts to reach full operation. Earlier this month the company, a subsidiary of Ohio based explosives manufacturer Austin Powder, reportedly managed to get a nitric acid plant to start up after several failures dating to last year.
Even as the company continues start-up efforts, it has filed permit extension requests citing poor market conditions as a cause for delays. In that filing the company said that they would be unable to sell as much ammonium nitrate as the $200 million plus plant could produce.
The delay request follows an announcement by the company claiming the plant had reached "full capacity.
The new monthly water discharge report, which is required under US Nitrogen's permit, shows nearly 2 million gallons of water were pumped from the Nolichucky on March 5 and March 16 while nearly 1.3 millions were pumped on March 4.
Smaller amounts were pumped from the river on five other days in March.
The company discharged more than 600,000 gallons into the river on two days, March 20 and 21, according to the report signed by US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo.
In its report covering February US Nitrogen reported it pumped 2.4 million gallons back into the Nolichucky but withdrew no river water during that period. In January the company pumped 3.4 million gallons from the river and discharged 3 million gallons.
In December of last year the company discharged 1.95 million gallons into the river, but did not pump any water from the river.
The use of the Nolichucky water has proven to be the most controversial aspect of US Nitrogen's operations, with environmental groups and abutting landowners registering multiple objections.
The company has declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on its start up efforts.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

US Nitrogen Gets Flare Permit Amendment

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental regulators have given their approval to an amendment to a US Nitrogen permit that will double the number of flare start up hours allowed for each circuit of two ammonium trains.
The amendment was requested late last month and represents the eighth time that permit has been amended since it was first issued on Jan. 4, 2012.
In seeking the change, US Nitrogen stated that it would not cause any increase in pollutants "but will significantly enhance US Nitrogen's operating flexibility."
Under the amended permit US Nitrogen will be required to maintain detailed records showing total hours during which gases from start-up are vented to the flare.
The permit is just one of several the Midway company has obtained from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Although the company has claimed that the ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility has reached "full capacity" the firm has yet to get its nitric acid plant into full operation. Pending before the state is another permit amendment seeking an extension on deadlines for the acid production.
In one of its filings company officials acknowledged that current market conditions contributed to start up delays.