SERGEANT BLUFF -- Three years after the completion of the monumental expansion of CF Industries' Port Neal nitrogen fertilizer complex, the plant has nothing but smooth sailing to report.
Nick DeRoos, the general manager at the complex, said the company has been pleased with how the $2 billion expansion of the complex is performing.
"The biggest thing in the last year, is just continuing to operate all of our plants here," DeRoos said. "The new facilities have come up nicely, and are proving to be very reliable, and exceeded our expectations on their production capacity."
The additions to the complex have borne fruit -- CF reported a production increase of roughly 20 percent in 2018, compared to 2017.
The complex has proven remarkably safe for workers. DeRoos said there wasn't a single recordable injury in 2018. "Which is great, that's our main priority is, we operate these plants without anybody getting hurt."
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The massive expansion, which began in fall 2013, required more than 5,300 construction workers to complete. Crews erected 33 new buildings, built a temporary jetty on the Missouri River and added 8.5 miles of rail line over a 350-acre site, which occupies a little more than three times the acreage of CF’s original plant south of the expansion.
Some of the most prominent additions are a new administration building, a state-of-the-art shipping and weighing center for trucks, a new ammonia plant, a new granular urea plant and a third-of-a-mile-long granular urea warehouse, which CF officials noted is one of the largest facilities of its type in North America.
The new ammonia plant tripled, to about 3,500 tons, the Port Neal complex's daily production of the chemical, the basic building block for nitrogen-based fertilizers.
Twin storage tanks, each measuring 155 feet in diameter and 106 feet tall, hold about 30,000 tons of ammonia apiece.
The giant warehouse stores up to 154,000 tons of granular urea, a solid nitrogen fertilizer that had not been produced at Port Neal in two decades.
The new plant, which became operational in late 2016, expanded the regional production capabilities of Deerfield, Illinois-based CF Industries.
DeRoos said it was the largest expansion of the Port Neal complex since the 1960s, when the original ammonia plant was built.
"Things of that magnitude, they just don't happen that frequently," he said.
The project was so large it made ripples in other sectors of the local economy. The out-of-state workers spent millions of dollars on everything from housing to groceries to entertainment during their lengthy stay in the region.
At present, DeRoos said the CF plant employs about 270, though that number fluctuates based on the number of contractors at the complex at a given time. During maintenance turn-arounds, there can be an additional 600 to 800 contractors reporting to CF.
The next maintenance turn-around, which entails shutting a plant down to perform maintenance work for a period of 25 to 40 days, is expected in 2020. Usually these take place in the fall.
"We are doing that on our original plant next year, and so we have a lot of investment going into the plant," DeRoos said.