Agrium announced yesterday that it has "successfully commissioned" its new urea plant at Borger, TX, "with its first run of urea production." The plant had been mechanically complete at the end of 2016.
2016 was a transformative year for the North American ammonia industry but, in 2017, the bigger impact will be on the urea industry.
Here's an update on four urea expansions expected on-stream this year and next, which will add almost two million tons of new urea capacity. In the process, they'll reduce the amount of ammonia that's available for sale by more than one million tons.
And, as a bonus, I have news on an embattled "clean coal" project that, in what might be a last gasp attempt at a viable business model, could potentially add another 1.5 million tons of urea in Texas.
Agrium continues to plan for the potential restart of its ammonia-urea plant in Kenai, Alaska: its draft water permit is now entering a 30-day public comment period.
However, the fact sheet for the draft permit contains one particularly interesting chart, which follows below, to illustrate the water flows throughout the ammonia-urea plant. In an industry that holds its data close, this is a refreshingly detailed flow chart.
The merger of equals between PotashCorp and Agrium was confirmed to be moving ahead this morning, in a press release announcing their boards' unanimous approval of the plan "to Create a World-Class Integrated Global Supplier of Crop Inputs."
"A new parent company will be formed to own both companies. PotashCorp shareholders will receive 0.400 common shares of the new company for each common share of PotashCorp they own, and Agrium shareholders will receive 2.230 common shares of the new company for each common share of Agrium they own."
Bloomberg broke news today of a potential merger between Agrium and PotashCorp:
The combination could be announced as soon as next week, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private. No final decisions have been made and the Canadian companies could decide against a deal, they said.
Over the last few years, Agrium has said very little about the potential restart of its export oriented ammonia-urea plant in Kenai, AK, except that we shouldn't expect any "imminent" announcements.
However, this week's hearings on a tax incentive bill by the Alaska Senate Finance Committee are accompanied by a raft of new documents, showing the project is very much still on the table - it just needs gas (financial incentives would be nice, too).
[Update 03/18/2016: Alaska passed Agrium's tax incentive bill yesterday.]
Nine ammonia projects were supposed to start up in 2015. Two succeeded.
OCI's debottleneck at Beaumont, TX, came on-stream in April 2015, and PotashCorp completed its expansion at Lima, OH, in October 2015.
So: in 2015, less than 200,000 mtpy of new ammonia capacity came on-stream.
Of the seven other projects slated for 2015, two were cancelled and the rest have been pushed into 2016.
If you want to know whether - or when - the US will become a nitrogen exporter, read what the fertilizer company CEOs say during the latest round of quarterly earnings calls.
These guys should have formed pretty solid opinions by now about how the capacity expansions will affect long-term supply and demand, and how they're going to gain/keep market share and competitive advantage. But it can be a challenge to infer what those opinions might be.
I've summarized the pertinent parts of the debate here, with quotes from Agrium, CF Industries, KBR, LSB Industries, OCI, Potash Corp, and Yara.
Agrium announced today that its board of directors has given a green light to its brownfield expansion at Borger.
145,000 tons more ammonia will be produced, but marketable (net) ammonia output will drop by 133,000 tons – the rest will go into making 610,000 tons of urea / DEF at their new urea plant, due online by end 2015.
You can read Agrium’s press release here.
"The key question with Kenai is, is there enough gas to restart the plant ... If we were able to bring that plant up, that will be by far the best capacity expansion we've ever done."
Chuck Magro, Agrium's new CEO, talked about the potential expansion at Borger, Texas, and restart at Kenai, Alaska, during the discussion that followed his presentation at CIBC's 17th Annual Whistler Institutional Investor Conference on Wednesday, January 22nd ...
UPDATED: 04/19/2017 — see Change Log
PROJECT: Ammonia-Urea Plant, expansion & urea brownfield
SUMMARY STATUS: Ammonia expansion Cancelled, Urea brownfield Operational
In April 2017, Agrium "successfully commissioned" its brownfield urea plant at Borger, which had been under construction since March 2014, more than a year behind schedule and 10% over budget. An expected debottleneck of the ammonia line was cancelled in 2015.
UPDATED: 09/13/2016 — see Change Log
OWNER: Agrium Inc
PROJECT: Ammonia plant
Agrium's Joffre plant, in operation since 1987, is the only remaining ammonia plant in Canada to use industrial byproduct hydrogen as feedstock. In September 2016, Agrium and PotashCorp announced a potential "merger of equals."
UPDATED: 12/20/2016 — see Change Log
PROJECT: Idle plant, Ammonia-urea restart
SUMMARY STATUS: Planning Phase
Agrium continues to evaluate whether to restart one of the two ammonia-urea lines at its export-oriented plant in Alaska. Originally, in 2013, it had intended to make its investment decision by early 2015. The project received its first environmental permits in 2015 and continued permitting in 2016, as well as garnering state tax incentives in 2016. Agrium's decision to restart the plant is, however, totally dependent on new availability of natural gas from the nearby Cook Inlet, which has not yet materialized. In September 2016, Agrium and PotashCorp announced a potential "merger of equals."
UPDATED: 11/24/2015 — see Change Log
PROJECT: Greenfield nitrogen fertilizer plant
SUMMARY STATUS: Cancelled
Agrium abandoned its plans for a world-scale greenfield in June 2013, when the cost estimate approached $3 billion. The company says the project is on hold while it finds a strategic partner and secures a long-term natural gas supply.
UPDATED: 01/12/2017 — see Change Log
PROJECT: Nitrogen fertilizer plant, urea expansion
SUMMARY STATUS: Operational, expansion cancelled
The Redwater fertilizer plant, which started up in 1968, may be the largest fertilizer complex in Canada. An expansion of the urea plant was cancelled in 2013. In September 2016, Agrium and PotashCorp announced a potential "merger of equals." Redwater should soon begin feeding its excess CO2 into a new pipeline, the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, which will transport it to old oil fields for EOR and underground storage.
Ron Wilkinson (Senior VP / President of Wholesale Business Unit at Agrium) on today's earnings call:
As far as the overall market goes and all these announcements, I think you have to stand back and say, which ones are supported by strong balance sheets and which ones are promoters out there with a great idea ...