Forecast: No Blue Sky for Agrium


Posted: Friday, March 14, 2008

When you look up "mothball" in the dictionary, it says: a condition of protective storage. It also says: a state of having been rejected for further use or dismissed from further consideration.

The second definition puts perfectly the announcement made by Agrium Thursday, when it stated that the "mothball of the facility will be completed shortly" in North Kenai.

In other words, we can say sayonara to the Blue Sky coal gasification project, which Agrium explored as a possibility to produce the natural gas it needs as a way to keep its plant open.

Agrium's slow demise has been ongoing for four years, when it became faced with intermittent flow and rising prices for the natural gas feedstock needed to make fertilizer. Now the closing process has filtered down to Thursday's press release.

It was quite an impressive project to begin with, but also one that was years in the making: taking 4 million tons of coal from the Beluga Coal Field across Cook Inlet from the plant to make 2 million tons of fertilizer a year.

It also was expected to create 2,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to Bill Boycott, general manager of Nitrogen Operations at the plant in 2005.

But now Agrium's interests in advancing "other gasification opportunities" have moved elsewhere mainly south, as in back to the drawing board at its headquarters in Alberta, Canada.

Employee numbers dropped quickly at first from 235, then to 140 last September. By the first of this year, there were about 50 folks left, but even that number has been whittling down as employees find new jobs. Now we're down to contract security and a handful of mothballers, and those are expected to be gone by June.

Agrium's benefits to the community have been plentiful over the years. Their contributions to communities, schools, nonprofits and organizations have meant millions to the Kenai Peninsula.

That's a void that will be difficult to replace.

Goodbye Agrium, and thanks for all you've given to the peninsula over the years.

You will be missed.

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