Agriculture Department Unveils Restrictions on Fertilizer Sales

Almost 10 years after a fertilizer bomb destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people, state agriculture officials in Oklahoma unveiled proposed restrictions on the sale of the explosive material.

Under the rules, retailers would have to obtain the name, address, telephone number and driver's license number of people wanting to purchase ammonium nitrate fertilizer and maintain records, including the date of the sale and the amount purchased, for at least two years.

The administrative guidelines would authorize retailers to refuse to sell ammonium nitrate when it was being purchased out of season, in unusual quantities or in other suspicious circumstances.

The proposal, similar to rules in place in South Carolina and Nevada, is designed to make ammonium nitrate more secure and keep it out of the hands of terrorists, said Kenny Naylor, Fertilizer Program Administrator with the Oklahoma Dept. of Ag, Food & Forestry.

A bomb made of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil was used to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. The Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people and remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.

Prosecutors alleged bombing conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used two tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer purchased from a farmers' cooperative in Kansas in late 1994.

"I don't know whether it would have prevented the Murrah Building (bombing)," Naylor said of the proposed rules. But he said retailers would have had to keep a record of the purchaser's identity.

McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and executed in 2001. Nichols, found guilty last year on 161 state murder charges, is serving life prison sentences on federal and state convictions for the bombing.

Joe Neal Hampton, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Agribusiness Retailers Association, said the group supports the rules. No one spoke against them at a public hearing.

"We think it's very important...that the retailer knows their customers," Hampton said. "We need to be careful and know who's using it."

Officials said the rules will have the most impact on home and garden and hardware stores that sell the fertilizer in bags. Homeowners can substitute other non-explosive fertilizers for ammonium nitrate.

Naylor said the proposal has been under consideration since 1995 and that momentum picked up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and bombings in Bali and Turkey in which ammonium nitrate was used.

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