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Kenmare fertilizer plant vastly different from site of Texas catastrophe

Kenmare, ND, and West, TX, are both small communities with established fertilizer plants located at the edge of town--near homes, businesses and schools--to serve the needs of each area’s farmers.

4/24/13 (Wed)

Safe operations at fertilizer plant . . . The Farmers Union Oil Co. fertilizer plant located
at the south edge of Kenmare is maintained and operated at the highest safety
standards, according to agronomy manager Scott Balvitsch.  "Anything we store
here is not explosive," he said, in the wake of the catastropic explosion
that occurred at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, last week.

By Caroline Downs

Kenmare, ND, and West, TX, are both small communities with established fertilizer plants located at the edge of town--near homes, businesses and schools--to serve the needs of each area’s farmers.

However, an explosion of the type that occurred April 18th at the West Chemical & Fertilizer Co., killing at least 14 people including volunteer emergency personnel and injuring 200 while damaging an estimated 75 homes along with businesses and two school buildings, is not likely to occur at the Farmers Union Oil Co. fertilizer plant in Kenmare.

“We don’t manufacture fertilizer there, and we don’t have pressure gases [stored] at our fertilizer plant,” said Scott Balvitsch, Farmers Union Oil Co. agronomy manager.

The blast at the West facility remains under investigation, with authorities still working as of Monday to identify a specific cause. Various members of the media have noted the plant was known to store quantities of ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia, both of which can be explosive under certain conditions, but neither substance had been directly linked to the April 18th incident.

Balvitsch pointed out that ammonium nitrate is not stored at the Kenmare facility, and anhydrous ammonia tanks from Farmers Union Oil Co. are kept in yards located outside the city limits. “Those sites are inspected by the state of North Dakota and the EPA,” he added. “We make sure we do our part to be safe with anhydrous.”

The fertilizer plant in Kenmare was built in 2005 at the cost of $1.6 million, with state-of-the-art technology included to manage the product handled there. The main building of the plant can store up to 10,200 tons of fertilizer.

“Our facilities are top-notch,” Balvitsch said. “We make sure all of our equipment is updated to meet state standards.”

He continued, “Safety is always important to us, both for the community and for our own employees.”

He mentioned the Farmers Union Oil Co. is prepared with a risk management plan that has been made available to community residents and business owners located in proximity to the plant. “We follow the safety regulations pretty heartily,” he said. “For safety concerns, if there’s something that can be addressed, we want to address it.”

Farmers Union Oil Co. maintains a close relationship with the Kenmare Fire Department and Kenmare Ambulance Service, with some employees serving as volunteers on those emergency squads. Balvitsch noted a safety meeting was conducted with members of the fire department at the Kenmare Fire Hall last year to educate everyone involved about dealing with potential issues and accidents.

The Farmers Union Oil Co. also recently donated a foam unit and trailer to the department to assist in fighting various types of fires or hazardous chemical spills in town and on area farms. “That shows our commitment to our first responders,” he said. “We want to make sure they have the right equipment to face these situations.”

Balvitsch emphasized the differences between Kenmare’s fertilizer plant and the West facility. “With the concerns about what took place in Texas, we want people to know we’re a storage facility,” he said. “We don’t manufacture fertilizer now, and we don’t plan on [doing] it.”

He pointed out that his own family’s home is situated just west of the plant. “I live about 50 yards from it,” he said, “and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t know it was safe.”

Secure location . . . Farmers Union Oil Co. agronomy manager Scott Baltvitsch
and his family live in a home located immediately west of the company's
fertilizer plant.  "I live within walking distance," he said, adding that he felt
secure in the safe operation of the plant.