Agrium Inc. applies for key permit to allow plant restart


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The Agrium Corp. fertilizer plant at Nikiski is seen in this Journal file photo. The company has applied for a key air permit, a necessary step should the plant be restarted now that natural gas supplies are increasing in Cook Inlet. The plant closed in 2007 after operating for several years at partial capacity.

Photo/File/AJOC

Agrium Inc. has applied for an air quality permit for a restart of its closed fertilizer plant at Nikiski, near Kenai.

The company has been researching the possibility of a restart for some time and says the application, made Oct. 24 to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is to get the permit procedure underway so the company can move quickly if a decision is made to reopen the plant, Agrium spokesman Adam Diamond said.

“At this stage we have made no decision, but the PSPD (air permit) can take a year or more to secure, so we thought it prudent to go ahead and start the process so we’re in a position to move,” Diamond said in an interview. “There are a lot of moving parts to this, but having the air quality permit in hand will give us a jump.”

John Kuterbach, program manager in DEC’s air quality division, confirmed that the application had been made.

“Agrium has submitted an air quality application for restarting the ammonia and urea plant and supporting utility portions of the Nikiski fertilizer plant,” Kuterbach wrote in an email. “Because the plant was permanently shut down (in 2007), this restart is being permitted as a new facility, and it requires preconstruction monitoring data before a permit can be issued. Agrium is currently collecting this data. We expect to complete permitting by next fall.”

Diamond said the air quality permit is needed before any construction activity at the plant can occur. The permit is required by the federal Clean Air Act and it is administered in Alaska by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Diamond also said Agrium has recently completed an initial technical screening of the plant’s condition, and that the company will likely initiate further engineering reviews next spring.

If the plant is restarted, it would likely involve one of two ammonia and urea production units, or “trains” that are in the plant. Mostly likely a newer unit that was built in 1977 will be targeted for restart. The older unit, built when the plant began operation in 1969, is not part of the restart plan, at least for now.

The capacity of the newer train, when it operated, was 630,000 metric tonnes of ammonia and 608,000 metric tons of urea annually (a tonne is 2,200 lbs).

Agrium was a major employer and taxpayer in the Kenai Peninsula Borough in the years the plant operated. For many years it was also one of the largest fertilizer plants in the world and sold mostly in export markets.

In the final years it operated Agrium began having difficulty securing enough natural gas to manufacture at full capacity because Cook Inlet gas reserves were being depleted. For a period the plant limped along at partial-capacity, operating seasonally so that regional utilities could get the gas available in winter.

Eventually the plant closed in 2007. Since then Agrium has continued with certain critical maintenance, however, with a small skeleton staff of maintenance technicians.

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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