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$1.5 billion fertilizer plant near Grand Forks on course for 2015 construction start

A group planning a nitrogen fertilizer plant near Grand Forks said Tuesday they are in the process of purchasing a site and are meeting other goals for the $1.5 billion project.

Northern Plains Nitrogen

A group planning a nitrogen fertilizer plant near Grand Forks said Tuesday they are in the process of purchasing a site and are meeting other goals for the $1.5 billion project.

"We're happy with where we're at right now," said Darin Anderson, chairman of Northern Plains Nitrogen, during a break from a company board meeting at UND.

In May the group announced its plans for a fertilizer plant to produce a variety of nitrogen fertilizer products, with a planned construction start in 2015.

That goal is still feasible, Anderson said, though they are "maybe a little behind, but not by much."

The project is slated to begin production in 2017. Northern Plains officials have said they expect the project to require a workforce of about 2,000 during construction and 135 when it is running.

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Financing

CEO Don Pottinger broke down project planning into four intertwined components: Securing a supply of natural gas, purchasing a site, assembling financing and distribution for the product.

He said everything but the financing is arranged. While the other three depend on getting the money to make the project viable, investment will not come until the other components are in place.

"It's a juggling act that never ends," he said.

Pottinger and Anderson said Northern Plains' search for investors will likely become easier after Sept. 23 when federal Securities and Exchange Commission rules change to give start-up companies more freedom in advertising their ventures to potential investors.

Under current regulations, companies like Northern Plains are restricted in what they can say about their financing and investors while raising money for a start-up.

"It's just about the best-kept secret around," Pottinger said, referring to restrictions on advertising the project.

Two 'big ones'

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Anderson said the remaining pieces of the project are falling into place.

The company is purchasing land next to Grand Forks' municipal sewage lagoons north of the city and west of the Interstate 29 interchange at North Washington Street. The company also has an agreement with the city to take 6.8 million gallons of wastewater per day from the lagoon.

The project also has secured its supply of natural gas, Anderson said, the primary feedstock for producing nitrogen. The abundance of natural gas being produced, and often burned off as a waste product, in North Dakota's Oil Patch makes the resource cheaper in the state and the venture more viable, he said.

"There's so much supply out there, it softens the price," he said.

The cost of natural gas generally accounts for 80 percent of the production cost of nitrogen fertilizer, according to Northern Plains.

The plant will receive gas through an existing pipeline near the project site or directly from the Oil Patch through a proposed pipeline, Anderson said.

"Those two are the big ones," said Anderson, referring to natural gas and land.

Northern Plains announced its plans for the production plant in May. While Pottinger said the construction of the plant is not yet certain, nothing has happened to derail it.

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"There's been speed bumps, not roadblocks," he said.

Call Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com .

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