TC ammonia plant

A barge is led by a harbor tug near the potential spot for a new ammonia plant in Texas City on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. The plant has been proposed to the Port of Texas City.

Citing safety, security and other concerns, two key players in Texas City’s maritime industry are objecting to the proposed location of the offshore portion of an $800 million ammonia processing plant that city officials courted with tax incentives.

Officials with the Port of Texas City and the Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association said they didn’t oppose the project overall, but objected to the proposed site and urged a review and reconsideration of that plan.

“The Port of Texas City has several key concerns with the site related to public interest factors including safety, security, navigation and economics,” wrote Karol Chapman, president and executive director of the private Port of Texas City, in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Officials with both groups said they were concerned about how the proposed offshore dock would affect traffic along the Texas City Ship Channel.

The port, along with the pilots, are objecting as officials with Gulf Coast Ammonia seek corps approval and permits for the design of the offshore dock.

Gulf Coast Ammonia officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Corps approval and permits would be the first of several steps the company must take to build the dock, officials said.

Gulf Coast Ammonia was formed in a partnership between Miami-based Agrifos and Borealis AG, Europe’s second-largest producer of polyethylene and polypropylene.

Shortly after forming, company officials announced plans to build an ammonia plant along the Texas coast.

Officials chose Texas City after commissioners in December approved a 10-year tax abatement for the proposed ammonia plant.

The Texas City Commission voted unanimously to approve a Chapter 312 tax abatement agreement and a Chapter 380 Economic Development and Performance Agreement with Gulf Coast Ammonia LLC and Eastman Chemical Texas City Inc.

Commissioners also voted to amend the boundaries of Texas City Gulf Coast Reinvestment Zone 1, where the plant was to be built.

At the time of the vote, no residents spoke about the project and commissioners did not make any lengthy comments.

Texas City Mayor Matt Doyle couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday about objections lodged by the port and the pilots.

The proposed facility would produce about 1.35 million metric tons a year of ammonia, according to documents released to The Daily News.

Officials with both the port and the Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association this week stressed they did not oppose the plant itself, but objected to plans for the offshore dock.

“We are certainly not opposed to Gulf Coast Ammonia,” Chapman said. “We are all about growth and business — it’s a good thing for everybody. However, we have got to be sensitive when we’re talking about a shared resource that is a port, that we don’t adversely impact any neighboring industries.”

Gulf Coast Ammonia plans to build a 140-foot long, 89-foot wide barge and dock facility bordering the Texas City Ship Channel about 3,800 feet away from shore, according to documents provided to the corps.

The dock would be connected, via pipeline, to Gulf Coast Ammonia’s actual plant, which would be in the Eastman complex at 201 Bay St. S.

The proposed dock would host barges and ships carrying liquid anhydrous ammonia, according to documents provided to The Daily News.

Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas with pungent, suffocating fumes used as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant, among other applications, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be immediately dangerous to life or health,” according to the CDC.

Anhydrous ammonia, along with ammonium nitrate, may have contributed to April 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant in West that killed 15 people and injured about 180. The plant in West stored about 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, according to the New York Times.

Anhydrous ammonia was deemed an especially hazardous cargo in a 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act, which means it poses a significant risk of creating a transportation security incident, according to a coast guard memo.

“As such, every vessel, entering or exiting the Port of Texas City will have to pass tankers being loaded with anhydrous ammonia at the proposed site,” Chapman wrote. “Also, no explanation is provided on how vessels docking at the proposed location will be turned and whether use of the Texas City Turning Basin is proposed or has been evaluated.”

Officials with the 16-member Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association on Tuesday said they shared the port’s concerns.

“We’re with the port,” said James Andrews, the association’s director of operations. “We think this needs to be re-reviewed and we think there may be a better plan than the one we reviewed.”

The pilots met with officials from Gulf Coast Ammonia and reviewed early plans for the dock, but argue the current design needs to be reconsidered, Andrews said.

Texas City’s 10-year tax abatement agreement with Gulf Coast Ammonia includes a stipulation that the company pay the city a lump sum of money during each of those years, said Chris Nichols of Nichols Firm, a Houston law firm hired by the city to execute the contract, at the December meeting.

The tax abatement will begin in 2021, Nichols said. Under the terms of the agreement, the company will pay a lump sum each year for 10 years to the city in lieu of paying property taxes so long as the value of the property is at least $450 million, Nichols said.

Those payments each year could range between $750,000 and $1 million depending on the value of development, Nick Finan, Texas City director of management services, said in December. The payment to the city would be equal to about 40 percent of what the company would otherwise pay, Nichols said.

It works out to an effective 60 percent reduction in taxes the company would pay to the city, Nichols said.

Corps officials Feb. 27 called for a public comment period over the proposed offshore dock that will end March 29.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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(13) comments

Teri McGowan

The explosion in West, Texas was from Ammonium Nitrate, not Anhydrous ammonia. Ammonium Nitrate is used in fertilizer and can be used for bombs. A cause of the Texas City disaster. Still not a fan of breathing ammonia, but the story seemed to have incorrect information in it,

Staff
Michael Smith

Thanks for your comment. The article as initially written did overstate the role of anhydrous ammonia in the West explosion. It should have reported that several credible sources believe anhydrous ammonia contributed to the explosion, along with ammonium nitrate. It has been edited to reflect that change.

Jose' Boix

Is this the edited/corrected version: "Anhydrous ammonia, along with ammonium nitrate, may have contributed to April 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant in West that killed 15 people and injured about 180. The plant in West stored about 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, according to the New York Times."?
The inference to Anhydrous Ammonia is still the incorrect focus.
The issue was specifically Ammonium Nitrate as it is noted in a similar reference http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/us/texas-fertilizer-plant-fell-through-cracks-of-regulatory-oversight.html
"Investigators say that the ammonium nitrate stored at the plant appeared to have caused the subsequent explosion. It was ammonium nitrate not anhydrous ammonia."
This is a much rational reference, which does not try to link a disaster in the making to the Ammonia Plant and the management of Anhydrous Ammonia.
I believe it is disingenuous to try to link unrelated inferences in order to underscore issues to incite rather than inform. The West explosion and the other related disaster events had nothing to do with Anhydrous Ammonia and the ships/barges management of such chemical. In addition, this area for years - and until relatively recently - managed Anhydrous Ammonia with not only storage facilities but by pipeline. Arguments and debates about these plant design and construction issues should focus on the real and specific issues and not marked by hyperbole.

Jim Forsythe

Not only ammonium nitrate but anhydrous ammonia was used and stored at the fertilizer plant in West
"According to its last filing with the EPA in late 2012, the company stated that it stored 540,000 pounds (270 short tons; 240 t) of ammonium nitrate and 110,000 pounds (55 short tons; 50 t) of anhydrous ammonia on the site. A week after the explosion, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Senate investigators that the company did not appear to have disclosed its ammonium nitrate stock to her department. Federal law requires that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) be notified whenever anyone has more than one ton of ammonium nitrate on hand, or 400 pounds (180 kg) if the ammonium nitrate is combined with combustible material ".
If not handled correctly, anhydrous ammonia can be explosive and deadly. Having both ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia in the same explosion is not a good thing.
"Danger Hazard statements : Flammable gas. May form explosive mixtures with air. Contains gas under pressure; may explode if heated. May displace oxygen and cause rapid suffocation. Harmful if inhaled."

Gary Miller

Jim? I think you might have ment "stretch the gore lie".

Jim Forsythe

Gary, what part is a Gore lie?

Michelle Aycoth

Liberal writers on GDN that like to stretch the truth to get their Al Gore views across.

Gary Scoggin

Huh?

Michelle Aycoth

You sensor now when opposition views against GDN ?
Andrew Aycoth

Jose' Boix

After reading this article and attending today’s Texas City-La Marque Chamber’s State of the Industry lunch, there are a number of inconsistencies that must be noted. These are:

1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317833836_West_Fertilizer_Company_fire_and_explosion_A_summary_of_the_US_Chemical_Safety_and_Hazard_Investigation_Board_report
Storage of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) is common worldwide. The material is stable when stored at ambient temperatures. However, ammonium nitrate is explosive when exposed to higher temperatures and/or a shock wave source.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/us/texas-fertilizer-plant-fell-through-cracks-of-regulatory-oversight.html
Investigators say that the ammonium nitrate stored at the plant appeared to have caused the subsequent explosion. It was ammonium nitrate not anhydrous ammonia.

2. http://www.agrifos.com/gca
Gulf Coast Ammonia (GCA) is a project to produce ammonia from purchased hydrogen and nitrogen feedstock. They are probably using a well proven Haber process.

3. Agrifos/GCA Corporate individuals had evaluated and changed 4 docking/port plan designs after discussing pros/cons with key port groups. These discussions led to an agreed 5th and best design alternative.

5. Regarding the excerpt “When handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be immediately dangerous to life or health,” according to the CDC.

Checking: https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/agentlistchem.asp
The CDC lists 65 Families of Chemicals ranging from Abrin to White phosphorous. Anhydrous Ammonia is just one of these many listed chemicals.

7. Regarding the excerpt “Anhydrous ammonia was deemed an especially hazardous cargo in a 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act, which means it poses a significant risk of creating a transportation security incident, according to a coast guard memo.”

This statement is misleading in a couple of points. The early Monsanto plant – now Eastman – handled Anhydrous Ammonia for years. Aside from storage facility, this chemical was pipelined to the Monsanto Chocolate Bayou Monsanto plant about 25 miles away where I worked.

In addition, the noted Act https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/3619/text
“SEC. 812. WATERSIDE SECURITY OF SPECIALLY HAZARDOUS CARGO means anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, chlorine, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, and any other substance, material, or group or class of material, in a particular amount and form that the Secretary determines by regulation poses a significant risk of creating a transportation security incident while being transported in maritime commerce.” So, it is not just Anhydrous Ammonia deemed “especially hazardous.”

Jose' Boix

I must add that writing articles and editorials with oblique inferences is not effective news service. It is beyond common sense to try to equate the Ammonia Plant and Anhydrous Ammonia with the various events of the past; none of which were even close or directly related to the ships' or barge loading of Anhydrous Ammonia - or even Anhydrous Ammonia as a chemical. So why bring to bare the BP, the Texas City explosion of 1947 or the West Fertilizer Company explosion. So why not add some of the other unrelated events like the Dec 20, 1987 HF Acid Leak?
Arguments and debates about these plant design and construction issues should focus on the real and specific issues and not marked by hyperbole. Just my thoughts.

Jose' Boix

My previous post somehow got truncated, as it should have read: After reading this article and attending today’s Texas City-La Marque Chamber’s State of the Industry lunch, there are a number of inconsistencies that must be noted. These are:

Jose' Boix

In addition, my previous post noted as Item 7 was also truncated at the end, and it should read as: In addition, the noted Act https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/3619/text
“SEC. 812. WATERSIDE SECURITY OF SPECIALLY HAZARDOUS CARGO means anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, chlorine, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, and any other substance, material, or group or class of material, in a particular amount and form that the Secretary determines by regulation poses a significant risk of creating a transportation security incident while being transported in maritime commerce.” So, it is not just Anhydrous Ammonia deemed “especially hazardous.”

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