06 December 2012 16:55 [Source: ICIS news]
HOUSTON (ICIS)--Low water levels in the Mississippi river are threatening the barge movement of fertilizers, prompting the call for a national emergency declaration, the Fertilizer Institute (TFI) said on Thursday.
TFI, along with associations representing barge operators, commodity groups and other organisations, submitted a letter on 27 November to President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting a presidential declaration of emergency.
The request seeks immediate assistance under a section of the Stafford Act to avert an economic catastrophe in the heartland of the US.
The Mississippi has been near historic low water levels that have restricted barge traffic on the nation's critical water transportation artery since this summer, when a drought affected much of the US midwest.
The existing crisis has been heightened further as the US Army Corps of Engineers has started the reduction of water to the Mississippi from dams on the upper Missouri river.
The groups have also requested Obama to direct the US Army Corp of Engineers to immediately remove the rock pinnacles along the river near Thebes and Grand Tower, Illinois, and release enough water from the Missouri river reservoirs to preserve a nine-foot (3-metre) navigation channel on the Mississippi.
"We are very concerned about the lower river levels," said TFI spokeswoman Kathy Mathers.
"About half of the fertilizer that is applied in the spring is moved up the river by barge," Mathers said.
"If the river cannot be negotiated by barges to move the fertilizer up from the ports, other forms of transportation cannot pick up the slack without creating supply problems because the railcar and trucking infrastructure to move this amount of fertilizer just is not there," Mathers said.
Supply shortages resulting from the transportation problems will lead to price increases, she added.
Mathers noted that quite a bit of the country's nitrogen fertilizer is imported from foreign sources and that these imports are dependent on the Mississippi river system.
"We are stakeholders in this and we just want to make sure fertilizer is able to be moved before spring," she said.
American Waterways Operators (AWO), a trade association for barge operators, said the economic impacts of a Mississippi river closure would be dire, placing $7bn (€5.3bn) in key products such as corn, coal, petroleum, fertilizer and other chemicals and products at risk in December and January alone.
Specifically, over 1.7m tonnes of chemicals worth $1.8bn, 1.3m tonnes of petroleum products worth over $1.3bn and over 700,000 tonnes of crude oil worth $534m would be in jeopardy, the AWO said.
To date, three state governors, 15 US senators, and 62 members of the US House of Representatives have written the Administration calling attention to the severity of the situation and urging action to keep the river open to navigation.
($1 = €0.76)
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