Haifa Chemicals Again Threatens to Close Plant, Lay Off Workers in the North

The company and municipality are at loggerheads over the safest way to ship ammonia to the factory

Workers protesting at Haifa Chemicals, August 2, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Haifa Chemicals has renewed its threat to close its Haifa Bay plant, telling the workers’ committee on Tuesday that it plans to shutter the facility and lay off its workers because the municipality refuses to let it import ammonia on small ships and offload it through a pipeline to the factory.

Haifa Chemicals, which has been plagued by criticism of its safety standards, said its proposal was the safest option, despite Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav’s opposition.

But a government official told TheMarker that the company had asked the Environmental Protection Ministry to let it import ammonia for the plant in small tanks, known as ISO tanks. This would seem to indicate that the company seeks an alternative to the option of piping ammonia from ships offshore.

Haifa Chemicals has maintained an ammonia tank of its own at the plant, but the container has long been criticized for being a safety hazard. The fate of the 12,000-ton-capacity tank has hung in the balance since February, when a Haifa court ruled that it should be closed due to health hazards if it leaked or were damaged.

Then the Supreme Court ruled, after multiple delays, that the tank had to be emptied by September 18.

Unlike other companies that use the ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizers, Haifa Chemicals failed to find imported alternatives as it fought in court and proposed various plans to keep importing ammonia that would pose fewer safety risks.

In its announcement Tuesday, the company said it also planned to supply its plant in the south with ammonia using ISO tanks, but the global supply of such tanks was insufficient for its needs.

Regarding the Haifa Bay plant, the government is awaiting comments from the municipality on options for the supply of ammonia to Haifa Chemicals. The options vary in cost, but the company is highly profitable and is considered able to take the hit of any additional expenses.

On Tuesday, the municipality issued a statement calling the announced closure of the plant “a continuation of [Haifa Chemicals’] aggressive conduct and the despicable use of the workers to put pressure on the government.”