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.

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