The back-story: anhydrous tanks good for another year

NH3 tanks like this one are the backbones of many producers’ seeding operations.  |  File photo

The Western Producer reported a year ago that a Transport Canada bureaucratic schmozzle was tying up anhydrous ammonia carts in Western Canada, thus preventing them from hauling NH3.

In the Jan. 12, 2017, story titled, “Chaos in fertilizer sector over NH3 tank rules,” we reported that the existing standard TC51 had been stricken from the code by Transport Canada, without industry consultation. And new standards were nowhere to be seen.

As reported, Transport Canada in conjunction with the Canadian Standards Association decided in 2012 to significantly alter regulations governing all new and existing NH3 tanks. However, cancelling the existing standard was as far as they got because they had not yet started devising a replacement standard.

There was industry concern that Transport Canada and the CSA had not properly consulted with Fertilizer Canada or the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers before yanking TC51, but it didn’t notify industry of the 2012 decision. Late in 2015, someone inside the government quietly informed CAAR and Fertilizer Canada. When Transport Canada and CSA had the industry take a look at the decisions, these came as a concern.

“On Jan. 26, 2016, we uncovered pending changes which would significantly impact the anhydrous ammonia industry,” said Delaney Ross Burtnack, then chief executive officer of CAAR. She said the action created a huge problem for dealers needing to buy new tanks. Manufacturers no longer had a standard to which they could build, so they obviously could not build new tanks.

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The other issue was tightening up of the testing cycle for existing tanks. The current five-year hydrostatic pressure test interval was being shortened to three years. The decision left people in the fertilizer industry scratching their heads. According to the data, more than 99 percent of tanks passed the test on the five-year cycle. The stricter inspection interval was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 12, 2018. It would ground an estimated 40 to 50 percent of all tanks on the Prairies.

“We think the regulations that had been in place were doing a great job. We have a number of tanks operating since the 1970s. They’ve been tested according to the TC51 standards and they continue passing,” said Burtnack.

Last week, an insider close to the situation said in a taped interview that the federal government was turning a deaf ear to the concerns of agriculture because the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster had left bureaucrats afraid to make the necessary compromise requested by agriculture.

Transport Canada finally did re-instate TC51 on a temporary basis, but the question remained of how to deal with all the tanks it wanted pressure tested before spring. And the Jan. 12, 2018 deadline was fast approaching.

Fertilizer Canada and CAAR argued that any winter deadline was unrealistic for two reasons:

  • A tank needs to be totally empty for hydrostatic testing. In the winter in Western Canada, every available cubic inch of NH3 capacity is used for anhydrous storage. There’s no place to put the stored NH3.
  • Hydrostatic testing requires the tank to be filled with water. In the winter in Western Canada, when temperatures hit danger levels, hydrostatic testing is out of the question.

That was the situation last week as the Jan. 12 deadline loomed. Conference calls tied up phone lines at industry and government as the impending hydrostatic rule threatened to ground 40 to 50 percent of the prairie NH3 fleet.

It was an especially tense week for Mitch Rezansoff, who took the reins as the new executive director of CARR Jan. 8. Working out the NH3 deal was his first task.

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