By Rod Nickel
June 19 (Reuters) - The CF Industries Holdings Inc’s ammonia plant where a fatal blast occurred last week will be idle for weeks longer than scheduled, but the extra downtime will have little impact on nitrogen output or ability to supply customers, the manager of North America’s largest nitrogen complex said.
The accident occurred on Friday at around 6 p.m. in a section of the Donaldsonville, Louisiana, plant that had been shut for maintenance when a nitrogen vessel ruptured during off-loading. The blast killed one worker and sent seven others to hospital, where one worker remains in stable condition.
The ammonia plant where the blast occurred is one of five at the Donaldsonville site that produce the nitrogen-based fertilizer, said Lou Frey, vice-president and general manager of the Donaldsonville complex.
“This is a small part of our operation and it’s a small part of the overall CF system because we have other facilities throughout the United States,” Frey said on Wednesday. “We’ll have to redistribute product from different places, but overall it won’t have an impact.”
Farmers apply nitrogen, which is also produced as urea and UAN fertilizer, to boost yields of corn and other crops. CF, based in Deerfield, Illinois, is the world’s second-biggest nitrogen producer after Norway’s Yara International ASA .
CF’s plan before the accident was to complete maintenance and restart the ammonia plant by mid- to late July. But it will remained closed until CF and health and safety investigators determine the cause of the blast.
The complex, built in the 1960s, has the capacity to produce 5 million tons of nitrogen products annually. CF is seeking permits to allow a $2.1 billion expansion that would make it the world’s largest nitrogen facility.
Frey said he did not know if the accident would affect CF’s expansion timeline.
The last fatal incident, a fire and explosion at the complex, killed three workers in 2000.
CF Industries shares were trading in New York in early afternoon at $190.80, up more than 3 percent from Friday’s close.
The explosion in Donaldsonville, a town of about 8,000 residents, came a day after a blast at a Williams Olefins petrochemical plant about 10 miles north in Geismar left two people dead and injured more than 100.
A fire and massive blast at a nitrate fertilizer plant in West, Texas, in April, killed 14 people and injured more than 200, focusing attention on the hazards of handling chemicals.