The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 24, 2013

Oklahoma fertilizer plants lacking regulation

Staff and wire reports
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Fertilizer manufacturers in Oklahoma are not inspected for general safety and are regulated only if there is a spill or emission, according to two state agencies.

Oklahoma is home to several fertilizer manufacturing plants, including one of the largest of its type in the nation, just northeast of Tulsa in the town of Verdigris. The CF Industries plant there is the “largest UAN (urea and ammonium nitrate) production facility in North America, with the capacity to produce more than 5,600 tons per day,” according to the company’s website.

Koch Fertilizer, which has a manufacturing plant in Enid, is the world’s third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer.

“Each day, the Enid plant is capable of making 3,000 tons of anhydrous ammonia, about 10 percent of the U.S. production,” according to the company’s website.

Paul Baltzer, company spokesman, said Koch is committed to a safe work environment and full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

“We strive to manage operations in a manner that protects the health and safety of employees, customers, contractors, the public and the environment,” Baltzer said.

A fertilizer plant explosion last week killed 14 people and injured 200 in West, Texas. West Fertilization Co. stored and distributed anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be directly injected into soil and is flammable.

Following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, state legislators passed a law giving extra regulatory authority to Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to regulate sales and storage of fertilizer. But Lance Kunneman, fertilizer program administrator for that department, said the agency’s regulatory power over fertilizer manufacturers is limited to spill response.

Kunneman said his department regularly inspects silos and grain elevators once the final product is made and on the market to track sales.

“Basically, any (non-manufacturing) facility that handles ammonium nitrate — which since the Murrah Building are fewer and fewer every year — they have to keep these (sales) records for two years,” Kunneman said. “We do audits on them four times a year.”

Furthermore, inspections at non-manufacturing facilities examine how securely the chemicals are stored, he said.

“All fertilizer has to be stored in a way that does not contaminate the environment and stored securely under lock and key,” Kunneman said.

Erin Hatfield, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, said Koch in Enid has stormwater and air permits. In the event of a fire or explosion, local environmental specialists would respond to ensure fertilizers and water used in fire suppression did not reach nearby water sources, Hatfield said.

Koch is one of the largest private companies in America. In Oklahoma, Koch directly employs more than 1,700 people and supports nearly 5,700 jobs, according to Koch Industries information.