Greeneville, TN — US Nitrogen

UPDATED: 10/20/2014 — see Change Log

OWNER: US Nitrogen (Austin Powder)
PROJECT: Greenfield ammonium nitrate plant

SUMMARY STATUS: Construction phase
Permits complete, September 2014, pending appeals and lawsuits. Broke ground in February 2012. Air permits issued (for the fourth time) and immediately appealed, July 2014. Water permits issued, and subject to numerous appeals, July 2014. Various lawsuits and restraining orders filed in August, September, and October 2014. Facing persistent local opposition (see Comments).

COST: $220 to $240 million
JOB CREATION: 80 permanent, 300 construction — see Job Openings [LINK]
START-UP DATE: 2015
LIKELIHOOD: Likely — see Methodology

CAPACITY REPORTED ADJUSTED *
Ammonia 200 short tons per day
73,000 short tons per year
66,224 metric tons per year
Nitric Acid 600 short tons per day 198,637 metric tons per year
Ammonium Nitrate Solution 840 short tons per day
260,000 short tons per year
139,071 metric tons per year
* Reported Capacity is in short tons (source: air permits). Adjusted Capacity for the Ammonium Nitrate plant is constrained to the publicized rate of 420 short tons per day, as this is roughly the maximum that can be produced given this site’s ammonia capacity. No such constraint is required for Nitric Acid. Adjusted Capacity is in metric tons assuming the plants operate for 365 days per year (see Methodology).

FEEDSTOCK: Natural gas
END PRODUCTS: Ammonium Nitrate solution, Nitric Acid

RESEARCH NOTE:
US Nitrogen’s groundbreaking ceremony took place in February 2012; at that time, the company expected to start production in March 2014. Since then, the project became mired in planning snafus, creating a cascade of regulatory and legal disputes, most of which are now resolved.

Much of the plant has been constructed already, so it seems highly unlikely that US Nitrogen and its parent, Austin Powder, will walk away from their considerable investment. The issues still facing this site are primarily of a technical legal nature, and seem likely surmountable. That said, more construction has yet to begin on a CO2 liquefaction plant and Yara’s CAN plant, so it could yet prove cost-effective to relocate the plant to a less controversial site; the company likes to remind everyone that it is “keeping all options on the table.”

The issues surrounding US Nitrogen’s plant include:

  • Water supply plans: could trigger triggered a new lawsuit from the local water utility in August 2014.
  • Air permit: appealed (no link available), July 2014.
  • Water permits: NPDES permit appealed and ARAP appealed twice, July 2014. (As I understand the process, which I gather is new, the air and water permit appeals will be heard by an administrative law judge. If either party disagrees with the judgement, it can appeal to the relevant Board: air or water. If neither party likes the Board’s decision, it can be appealed again and return to the courts. The timeframe for this process doesn’t sound short: I hear that there’s a 180 day timeframe for the appeals to be heard, but if the decisions are appealed back and forth a few times, I should imagine it could be stretched out for well over a year. During all this process, construction can continue. US Nitrogen doesn’t need to be involved in these proceedings: the legal actions are against TDEC, however, I understand that US Nitrogen has filed to be a party to the appeals.)
  • Right of way permit for water pipeline: denied by TDOT, June 2014, before being approved, August 2014.
  • TDEC’s Water Quality Criteria: challenged by environmental groups through the EPA, June 2014 (potentially rendering all US Nitrogen’s water permits void).
  • Site zoning: challenged in a lawsuit to be heard in October 2014.
  • Land purchase: potential for litigation amid various ongoing accusations of fraud, bribery, perjury, corruption, and general abuse of office in September 2013 (apparently arising when the chairman, now retired, of the local utility district was supposed to be negotiating a price for the sale of public water, but instead negotiated the sale of personal land on the banks of the Nolichucky, where US Nitrogen now plans to withdraw water at no cost).
  • And finally: in July 2014, local officials of the Greene County Industrial Development Board sparked international outrage by arresting an individual at an open meeting who dared to ask them to speak up. The Tennessee Open Records Counsel is now flooded with public complaints, which will be passed on to the county attorney in due course.
  • And finally: in September 2014, the Save the Nolichucky organization filed suit against US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County (IDB), in an attempt to stop construction on the controversial water pipelines.
  • And finally: in September 2014, another new lawsuit was filed, this time against TDOT, alleging that it was against state law to grant right of way for any entity other than a public utility.
  • And finally: in October 2014, a number of residents secured a restraining order to stop US Nitrogen from trespassing – although US Nitrogen claims it hasn’t and doesn’t need to enter their properties to build the pipeline.

Image: Save The Nolichucky, used with permission

Image: Save The Nolichucky, used with permission

A large number of the problems facing US Nitrogen involve its plans to build a 12-mile dual pipeline, at a cost of “approximately $130,000 per mile.” The pipeline would take water from and discharge effluent into the Nolichucky River, crossing 20 streams on its way. This replaced the original plan, which would have involved paying to upgrade the local utility’s infrastructure as well as paying for water supply. It seems that US Nitrogen has solved this issue by developing a “split flow” plan for the plant’s water requirements, combining both the original plan to use the Town of Mosheim’s Lick Creek wastewater treatment plant as well as the double-pipeline, for which it received the final permits from the Tennessee Valley Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in September 2014.

US Nitrogen’s “state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly” plant sits on 50 acres, within a 450-acre tract, near Midway, in rural Greene County, Tennessee.

The greenfield project consists of two ammonia plants each with a capacity of 100 short tons per day (stpd), a nitric acid (NA) plant with capacity 600 stpd, and an ammonium nitrate solution (ANSOL) plant with capacity 840 stpd. The site’s ANSOL capacity will be constrained by the amount of ammonia it produces (US Nitrogen can not produce enough ammonia to make 840 stpd of ANSOL on a continuous basis; the company’s publicized ANSOL production rate of 420 stpd is more realistic).

US Nitrogen has altered and expanded its plans a number of times, adding to the complexity of the issues facing the project. The most significant additions to the site are a calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) plant, to be owned and operated by Yara, and a carbon dioxide (CO2) liquefaction plant, whose owner and operator has not yet been decided (US Nitrogen is presently “in negotiations with multiple companies” to run the CO2 plant).

Yara’s 72,000 short ton per year (stpy) CAN plant will purchase its nitric acid feedstock from US Nitrogen and limestone “from nearby quarries,” the latter delivered by “a maximum of three trucks per day.” CAN solution, the finished product, will be shipped out by a maximum of “10 tankers per day.” The plant’s continuous process will consume up to 2.8 short tons (5,600 pounds) of milled limestone and 3.5 short tons (7,006 pounds) of nitric acid every hour.

The 90,000 stpy CO2 plant will liquefy “concentrated CO2 off-gas generated by the ammonia reforming process,” for sale to industrial consumers.

US Nitrogen’s air permits reflect the project’s torturous planning process: the initial air permit application was submitted in June 2011, revised in August 2011, approved in January 2012, extended in May 2013, extended again in December 2013, and the latest revised air permit was approved in June 2014. The air permit caps emissions at 215,044 stpy of greenhouse gases (CO2e) and 95.26 stpy of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

This latest permit incorporates the Yara and CO2 plants because “from a regulatory standpoint, they are likely considered a single ‘stationary source.'” The addition of the Yara plant increases site-wide emissions somewhat but the CO2 plant causes “a reduction of approximately 80%” of the (previously approved) CO2 emissions from the ammonia plant. Ammonia and VOC emission have increased, compared to the previous permit, “due to increased use of natural gas plus … new information from the catalyst manufacturer and the design engineer.” US Nitrogen gives no reason why these fundamental design details were changed so far into the construction phase, nor any indication that they won’t request still more changes as construction continues.

Regarding possible future modifications of the permits, the shortfall between permitted ammonia capacity and permitted ANSOL capacity is noteworthy: it would not surprise me if another air permit modification was coming around the corner. A ~75% expansion of the ammonia lines, to roughly 127,000 stpy, will be required before both US Nitrogen’s ANSOL plant and Yara’s CAN plant can operate at their permitted capacitites (see the math below).

US Nitrogen’s end product, ANSOL, a concentrated solution of ammonium nitrate in water, will be shipped to Austin Powder’s “manufacturing sites in Ohio and elsewhere,” where it will be used to manufacture blasting agents for the industrial explosives market. ANSOL is stored and shipped in “specially designed trucks” as a hot liquid. Depending on the strength of the solution, “hot” means a temperature of (for example) more than 225°F or 135 to 140°C. The company estimates that “30-40 truckloads per day will leave the plant.” It appears that local opposition groups have not questioned the safety implications of transporting this quantity of hot ANSOL by truck, nor has US Nitrogen provided any details.

MATH: US Nitrogen’s ammonia (NH3) feedstock consumption
One ton ANSOL requires 0.80 tons NA and 0.22 tons NH3.
One ton NA requires 0.29 tons NH3.

ANSOL production: 260,000 stpy
NA required for ANSOL (x0.80) = 208,000 stpy
… and NH3 required for NA (x0.29) = 60,320 stpy
NH3 required for ANSOL (x0.22 ) = 57,200 stpy
… so total NH3 required for ANSOL = 117,520 stpy (60,320 + 57,200)

CAN production: 72,000 stpy
NA input rate given as 7,006 pounds per hour = 30,686 stpy
… and NH3 required for NA (x0.29) = 8,899 stpy

Total site NH3 requirement (US Nitrogen + Yara) = 126,419 stpy (117,520 + 8,899)
Permitted site NH3 capacity = 73,000 stpy

A ~75% expansion of the ammonia lines is therefore required for all on-site plants to operate at permitted capacity. However, even this might underestimate the installed ANSOL capacity, as the 840 short tons per day capacity plant is permitted for 260,000 short tons per year. Operating for 365 days per year, an 840 stpd plant would produce 306,600 stpy, a ~20% expansion above the currently permitted ANSOL capacity and a ~100% expansion above the currently permitted ammonia capacity.


View larger map with all ammonia plants.

ADDRESS: 471 Pottertown Road, Midway, Tennessee, 37809, United States
WEBSITE: http://www.usnitrogen.com/
WEBSITE: http://www.austinpowder.com/

SOURCES:

  • 10/18/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: Attorneys In New Lawsuit Reach Agreement About Avoiding ‘Trespassing’ In Work On USN/IDB Pipeline [LINK]
  • 09/30/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: US Nitrogen Granted Last Permit [LINK]
  • 09/27/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: New Legal Thrust In US Nitrogen Battle [LINK]
  • 09/16/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: Another Lawsuit Filed Against US Nitrogen And IDB [LINK]
  • 08/29/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: Lawsuit Filed Against IDB, US Nitrogen [LINK]
  • 08/02/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: TDOT Issues Pipeline Permit [LINK]
  • 07/23/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: US Nitrogen, Old Knox Make Progress In Water Talks [LINK]
  • 07/23/2014: Knoxville News Sentinel local news article: Negotiations: Controversial pipeline would be owned, monitored by utility [LINK]
  • 07/23/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: Old Knox, US Nitrogen Now Negotiating On A Water Deal [LINK]
  • 07/21/2014: Daily Mail news article: Outrage as 76-year-old man is ARRESTED at town hall meeting for asking board members to speak louder [LINK]
  • 06/27/2014: Tennessee Clean Water Network press release: Tennessee Citizens Groups Fight TDEC’s Proposed Rules on Water Quality Criteria [LINK]
  • 06/13/2014: WATE.com local news article: TDOT denies right-of-way to Greene County U.S. Nitrogen plant [LINK]
  • 06/03/2014: TDEC, Water Permits: US Nitrogen, LLC [LINK]
  • 06/03/2014: TDEC, Air Permits: US Nitrogen, LLC [LINK] and Final Determination summary [PDF]
  • 05/02/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: Comment Period For US Nitrogen Permits Extended [LINK]
  • 02/04/2014: Greeneville Sun local news article: US Nitrogen Asks To Get Water Out Of The Nolichucky River [LINK]
  • ONGOING: US Nitrogen: construction updates [LINK]
  • 03/01/2012: Chematur Technologies press release: New contract for Weatherly inc [LINK]
  • 02/18/2012: Greeneville Sun local news: US Nitrogen Breaks Ground For $220-Million Plant [LINK]
  • 02/21/2011: Greeneville Sun local news: Commission To Consider US Nitrogen, LLC Plant [LINK]

15 comments for “Greeneville, TN — US Nitrogen

  1. Roberta Drake
    April 27, 2014 at 12:36 am

    We don’t want US Nitro, Austin Powder, Yara or any other plant in East Tennessee to come in here and pollute the Nolichucky River and destroy this region. Shame on you demons. Your day is coming….

  2. Bambi Gullatta
    April 27, 2014 at 1:12 am

    Do not allow US Nitrogen / Austin Powder to open here! They have ruined enough area’s! We do not want the pollution! Or the health risk! A few jobs is not worth their lies!

  3. Diane McCarter
    April 27, 2014 at 1:40 am

    This is a grave mistake, allowing these people to slip in here under a cloak of secrecy. Why all the secrecy, who us YARA. Why weren’t all people living in all counties,, using or bordering the Nolichucky notified? This company has had many, many problems and fines. Their ties with Lebanon and Muammar al-Gaddafi is extremely troubling to me. google YARA, check out all the lawsuits and payoffs. Smells like a you’re being placed in an extremely dangerous position, for a few jobs! Beware!

  4. Katrina Brinkley
    April 27, 2014 at 8:35 am

    I’m a ‘Neighbor’ of USN, and apparently, Yara, and the other proposed factory to be brought in… I STRONGLY OPPOSE these companies coming into MY NEIGHBORHOOD and polluting my air, my water, my land & my life… Not to mention endangering the lives of my family, my neighbors & my friends… We the people of Midway were not even given the opportunity to have a say in this intrusion on our beautiful home… You have come in here in taken our beauty away, run off our wildlife animals my child & grandchildren loved to watch… You are all nothing but liars & have nothing but the mighty dollar in sight… NOT THE WELL BEING NOR CONCERNS FOR WE THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE MADE THIS HOME FOR MANY GENERATIONS…. And your so called events that we were all invited to. We weren’t … Your trucks drove thru my dead end road, didn’t stop once except to turn around to leave back out… You never intended for the local population to know a fact one nor be informed enough to tell you, NO !!! I say ” GO AWAY ! WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE ! NOT ALL OF US CAN BE BOUGHT WITH YOUR DIRTY MONEY ! WE LOVE OUR HOMES & OUR LAND & COUNTY… WE DO NOT LIKE YOU ! LEAVE OUR COUNTY ALONE OR BUILD IT IN YOUR OWN BACK YARD LIKE YOU ARE IN MINE ! AND TELL YOUR FAMILY IT IS SAFE & OKAY… THEY WOULD NOT BUY THE LIES EITHER… “

  5. Connie
    April 27, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Now that Industrial Developmental Board has gotten the property back from US Nitrogen the taxpayers are liable for the clean up if there is an explosion. Also there has not been and Environmental Impact Statement submitted to my knowledge which is the law…check out this web link to see the actual members of the IDB listed by the Greene County Partnership website….Election time this year and I hope the communities exercise their right to vote. If they can buy the water from Old Knox Utility then they should have to do that not get free water from the Nolichucky and then pollute it. http://www.growingreene.com/about/economic-development-partners/

  6. Maggie Flint
    April 29, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Many citizens in Greene County oppose this plant being located there, as do many of us who live in neighboring counties. We do not need another source of pollution to our air and water in Northeast Tennessee. This company has been underhanded and not forthcoming from the beginning. The people of this region deserve to know the truth about the handful of dirty jobs that will be bought at the cost of our air and our water and that of our children. We have roots here that run deep and we do not want US Nitrogen or Austin Powder here.

  7. Kayleigh Peralez
    May 8, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    As I see, many of others agree with me, my family, and my friends. We have a cabin that is literally right beside the Nolichucky River. We are downstream about two miles from the intake and outfall that US Nitrogen/Austin Powder will be putting into the river. The meetings that have been held exposed the fact that Ammonia and Nitrate would both be put into OUR river, ONE of the TWO rivers that are not polluted, YET! What they didn’t say is that other hazardous chemicals will also be put in the river. The pollution that may be put into this river will not affect us, but it will affect our children, our grand children, their grand children, and our future generations. We need all the help we can get to make sure that this horrid operation does not have OUR water polluted!!!!!

  8. Ms Park Overall
    August 9, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Mr. Trevor Brown:
    Thank you for your concise essay. We are the ones appealing the air and WATER with a consultant out of CO and with a skilled and reputable lawyer that knows how deal in environmental law. Haslam slammed this in and the poor continue to vote against their own best interest. Legally all permits violate Federal Law here. One of the most troubling issues is the Nolichucky is a very small river and highly damaged by Nuclear Fuel Services, Erwin, TN. Sierra tested the water for 100 miles and found bomb grade uraniums….So much for depending on the kindness of Yankee strangers.
    In the press the amount of water to be used is thrown around at 1.45 million galls a day to 1.9. Their paperwork, however, says 2.8. That is quite a discrepancy….They are going to roll over wetlands and highly valuable archeological digs. That’s in their own paperwork. And we have fought tenaciously. Time will tell if corruption rules the day. Thank you again, for your interest in this tragic matter.

    • Trevor Brown
      August 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you Park. I’ll be looking out for how your appeal turns out. I know democracy can be messy, but it’s not supposed to be this messy.

      I read all the files and have to say that you and the team did a thorough job, both in the comment period and in the appeals. One discrepancy that I still don’t understand is why the air permit for the Yara CAN plant dismissed any kind of carbon dioxide capture technology, based solely on the fact that building a pipeline to an oil field for EOR would be prohibitively expensive (this is in the BACT section). There’s a CO2 liquefaction plant on site, for goodness sake – why would anyone talk about piping it miles away? Anyway.

      I’m sure this story will continue to evolve in unexpected ways, and I wish you the best for your part in that.

      Yours,
      T.

  9. Robin Britton
    August 24, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    We don’t want US Nitrogen in Greene County! Poisoning our beautiful river and town! Money don’t buy everyone so go back where you came from!

  10. Park Overall
    August 28, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you, Trevor. I need a layman’s explanation for EOR!!! And I like my democracy messy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Trevor Brown
      August 28, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Park,

      EOR stands for “enhanced oil recovery” – meaning that, in order to get more crude oil out of an old oil well, one that isn’t producing as much oil as it used to, they pump carbon dioxide (CO2) down into the ground, and the well starts producing more oil again.

      See the US DOE’s kinda technical page here.
      Or see the wiki page here.

      The idea is that EOR will sequester the CO2, meaning that it will be stored underground for ever, not in the atmosphere, and simultaneously pushes more of the oil up so that the unproductive oil well becomes productive again.

      From an environmental point of view, there’s a big debate about how useful this action is: pumping CO2 underground doesn’t really help solve the big problems because it allows you to keep extracting oil. But that’s exactly why this environmental technology has been allowed to prosper – it’s a compromise that doesn’t change the status quo. The tremendous amount of money that people have put into developing EOR and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies could have been directed at projects that were actually sustainable – but it wasn’t.

      Additionally, there are questions about whether this CO2 storage is in fact permanent. And then there’s the issue of it causing earthquakes, especially when you pump too much or do it in a place that has fault lines already. But people don’t like to talk about these little problems …

  11. Lois Gilbert
    September 1, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I don’t need. USN less than a quarter. mile from my home!I don’t need a county. government that doesn’t give voice to my needs.Air and Water will be negatively affected, and sitting on a fault line built on top of barrels of TOXIC waste!

  12. Briggs gilliam
    September 1, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    When do we stop choosing economics over clean air and water? I live 3/miles from the Noli. I also boat there and know its beauty. Let’s not spoil this regional treasure.

  13. Lloyd Seaton
    September 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    This environmental diaster was brought in on the people of Greene County in one of the slimest ways possible by former county mayor Alan Broyles for 80 jobs. This plant is within a mile of 900 high school students. It is within 1 1/4 of an elementary school. It is within 1 1/4 miles of an elementary school. Why in heavens name would anyone risk these kids lives for 80 jobs. I say move the freak show to the farm of former county major Alan Broyles.

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