After Facility Evacuation Order, Haifa Chemicals Halts Ammonia Sales

View of the oil refineries of Haifa and the industrial area. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

If Haifa Chemicals can’t have ammonia, then nobody will, apparently, as the company announced Tuesday that it was halting the sale of ammonia to its customers. The announcement came in advance of an appeal filed by the company Wednesday in a Haifa court against the ordered closure of ammonia storage facilities in Haifa Bay.

Those facilities are a “danger to the public,” since they are old and dangerous to the environment, and could be used by terror groups to carry out a catastrophic attack against Haifa and its environs. The court last week ordered Haifa Chemicals to drain the storage facilities within 10 days, putting to an end a years-long effort by environmental groups and government officials to force the company to shutter the facilities.

In response, Haifa Chemicals announced that it would appeal – and that any ammonia it had would be used for its own internal purposes. Sales to industry – ammonia is important in the production of many industrial and consumer items, such as fertilizers, cement, paper, medicines, food products and much more – will be halted. According to experts, the company could have sold off all the ammonia in the storage facilities within 10 days, based on its usual sales pattern, but if kept for internal use (for the production of its own chemicals and fertilizers) the ammonia could last six to seven weeks.

According to sources in the company quoted in business daily TheMarker, the objective is to create an ammonia shortage, in order to demonstrate how important Haifa Chemicals is to the Israeli economy. “Without ammonia, the economy is going to go crazy within a couple of weeks,” the sources were quoted as saying, adding that the objective was to prompt business leaders to pressure the government to allow the Haifa facilities to remain in place, at least until another cost-effective storage solution is found.

If that is the strategy, it is already having an effect: The Industrialists Association said in a statement that the interruption of ammonia supplies could indeed have a devastating effect on the economy. While it is not opposed to the closure of the Haifa facilities – and in fact has promoted the closure, as their presence in a highly-populated area is problematic – there are currently no other alternatives, as plans to build storage facilities in the Negev have never taken off. An immediate shortage of ammonia, the group said, will negatively affect at least 100 factories, where thousands of Israelis are employed.

In 2013, the Environment Ministry approved a plan to move the facility to a less-populated area of the Negev, because of fears that a leak or other incident could endanger the health and lives of the 800,000 residents of the region. The matter has been a cause celebré for environmental groups for decades, who have organized many petitions, protests and marches over the years to move the facility. Commenting on last week’s order, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said that he congratulated the court “for its brave stance. This is an important achievement in a struggle that has stretched over many years. We will not stop until all the ammonia is removed from Haifa Bay.”

In response to the developments the Tzlul environmental group said that “the threats of an ‘ammonia boycott’ deserve examination by the courts. Ninety-five percent of the ammonia in those storage facilities is meant for the production of Haifa Chemicals’ own fertilizers and pesticides. Production of those items is apparently more important to the company than the safety of Haifa residents.”

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