Fortigen in pre-commissioning phase; ammonia tank setback


Construction is almost complete on Fortigen’s new ammonia plant in Nebraska, and “the pre-commissioning stage is now underway,” according to local press. Unfortunately, there was a significant setback on the site at the end of May, when the ammonia storage tank was damaged, which will probably delay full operations by at least a month.

Earlier this month the EPC contractor, GorhamGroup Industrial, hosted an event at the site to celebrate its “250,000 Manhours without Accident or Incident” since major work began in August 2016.

At the event, Fortigen Sr. Project Engineer Joe Casey said experts from six countries and 15 different states are currently at the plant lending their expertise … “These people have expertise in the seven areas that we will be commissioning.”

After the event, Westling said he’s excited that most everything is coming in on time and on budget at the plant site … Substantial completion of the $75 million ammonia-producing fertilizer plant is expected to happen at the end of August.
Nebraska Signal: Safe work at Fortigen plant celebrated, 07/18/2017

According to the original construction schedule, this week is the deadline for the completion of ISBL (inside boundary limits) work, meaning everything required to produce ammonia.

“From Day 1, the schedule was to have the ISBL work completed by July 25,” Casey said. “We’re on schedule for that. We currently have over 200 contractors on site working six days a week in order to maintain that schedule.”
Nebraska Signal: Fortigen set to make ammonia on July 25th, 06/13/2017

Ammonia storage tank damage: “human error,” closed vents
Unfortunately, completion of the OSBL (outside boundary limits) work became delayed in May, when the ammonia storage tank was damaged during hydrostatic testing.

There have been many stories of ammonia plant construction mishaps over the last few years, so it is no surprise that Fortigen has not been immune to setbacks. The aspect of this incident that confuses me is the story spun to the local press: according to an interview from mid-June, the late-May incident was apparently “a mystery.”

Casey said the tank’s failure is still a mystery to everyone involved. He said Fortigen and contractors will be bringing in a company that specializes in 3-D laser measurements and they will be creating a 3-D model of the tank in its current condition. It should show how the tank has been affected, he said.

“Our efforts have been very aggressive with this,” Casey said. “We don’t know what caused this incident. The contractor who is fabricating the tank is doing an engineering study. A third party company is doing an evaluation. Once we understand what happened, a plan will be formulated. We have no idea what that plan will ask us to do.”
Nebraska Signal: Fortigen set to make ammonia on July 25th, 06/13/2017

A month later, the story to the local press was more forthcoming:

“The issue that happened was a result of human error. It happened during testing. A repair plan has been established and that is getting done … In fact, it will be more robust now after completion than it would have been before … It could be done now in the middle of September. ”
Nebraska Signal: Safe work at Fortigen plant celebrated, 07/18/2017

I don’t know why the local press needed to be fed that vague story about the failure being a “mystery to everyone,” because it is clear that Fortigen staff immediately knew what happened.

According to a Nebraska DEQ memo, relating a phone call with Fortigen’s Environmental Health & Safety Manager on 2 June 2017, the regulator had received a complaint at the end of May, relating to work testing the ammonia tank for leaks, during which “the tank could have been compromised when water was subsequently drained from the tank with closed vent pipes, which caused a vacuum inside the tank and the tank walls appear to have ‘dimpled’ or bent inward.”

[Fortigen staff] stated that they did conduct hydrostatic testing over the Memorial Day weekend and that there were dimples in the tank due to human error when the vacuum vents weren’t properly opened.
Nebraska DEQ, phone call summary, 06/02/2017

So, no “mystery,” but some delay, likely fixed by September.

Future expansion?
Fortigen’s owners have previously stated that they were considering an expansion at Geneva, to enable the plant to upgrade some of the ammonia into other nitrogen fertilizers, like UAN or urea. This, it seems, may well become a reality:

Westling also noted that major completion at the plant will also take a bit longer than previously expected because Fortigen officials have asked GorhamGroup Industrial workers to add some facets to the project to facilitate future expansion at the plant.

“From March [2017] to now, we have asked them to construct some additions that will allow expansion to include more products,” Westling said. “And, they’re working really hard on this expansion and the new facets that have been added. This could mean a huge additional investment at the plant … well over a $200 million project could result from this expansion.”
Nebraska Signal: Safe work at Fortigen plant celebrated, 07/18/2017

You can find full project information in my Research Note for Geneva, NE.

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