The ammonia fertilizer industry produces far worse emissions than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a study published in the journal Elementa.
The study focused on the ammonia fertilizer industry because it relies heavily on natural gas to run its production plants. Though the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions are well understood, emissions of methane – which has 25 times the global warming potential – were unknown prior to this study.
The researchers from Cornell University and the Environmental Defense Fund collected samples at six ammonia fertilizer plants in the Midwest in June 2015 and September 2016, and used their findings to estimate industry-wide emissions throughout the U.S. The team found that the fertilizer industry produces 29 gigagrams of methane emissions annually, well above the 0.2 gigagrams reported by the EPA between 2015 and 2016.
In order to gather the data, the research team drove downwind from the Midwest facilities with a methane analyzer that recorded the methane levels in the air. They recognized the limitations of their airborne measurements since not every plant had good road access and they collected samples over just a few days in a single month.
The findings are a cause for concern for Hoosiers, particularly those who live close to fertilizer production plants. Methane not only accelerates climate change, but it poses threats to the health of communities close to the facilities emitting the gas.
The Midwest is home to many of the U.S.’s ammonia fertilizer production plants, and Indiana is set to have a new plant in Posey County in the next few years.