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Natural gas to fertilizer: ND Corn Growers Association looks at $1.5 billion plant


North Dakota producers may have another use for natural gas other than heating their buildings.

The North Dakota Corn Growers Association recently announced it is in its business planning stage to build a world-scale nitrogen fertilizer plant that will serve North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Canada, according to a press release. The organization will use natural gas as a feedstock to produce anhydrous ammonia, CGA President Darin Anderson said.

"We are trying to bring two of North Dakota's most important industries together," he said. "We are trying to use natural gas that is being flared up in western North Dakota and making it something useful for the agricultural community."

Officials expect the plant to cost about $1.5 billion and said it could produce about 2,200 tons of fertilizer per day. Anderson would not disclose where the site would be or when it would be complete.

Almost 90 percent of the fertilizer plants in the world use natural gas as a feedstock, Anderson said.

The Oil Patch in western North Dakota also produces the gas necessary for fertilizer. The state was producing 687,775 metric cubic feet per day in May, an all-time high, according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

"We expect natural gas production to grow substantially in the next few years," State Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad said. "That means we will have excellent opportunities for value-added industries in North Dakota."

The Bakken Formation's natural gas played a part in the feasibility study to bring a plant to the tri-state area, Anderson said. Beulah has the only plant serving the upper Midwest, and there is a high demand for fertilizer in the three states, he added.

"We have to import a vast majority of our nitrogen fertilizer," he said. "What we want to do is stabilize that supply so we are not producing shortages and so forth."

The oil and gas industry has invested more than $3 billion to capture the commodity. Companies flared about 30 percent of the gas, but it hopes to bring that number down to 20 percent this year, officials said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday encouraged agriculture leaders to invest in the processing plant, according to a press release. Building a plant near gas reserves would help ensure long-term feasibility and give farmers a stable supply of fertilizer.

"While we continue to supply the nation with high-quality natural gas, we can also continue to add value right here in North Dakota," Dalrymple said in a statement. "By converting more natural gas to fertilizer, we can further diversify our economy."

Anderson wants to give farmers an edge to handle high nitrogen fertilizer prices by investing in the plant.