The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

April 22, 2013

Oklahoma fertilizer plants largely unregulated

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

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.

Last week, a fertilizer plant explosion killed 14 people and injured 200 more in West, Texas. The 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 the 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 tells the Tulsa World that 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.

 

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