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ISSUE BRIEF JULY 2019

Biogas From Factory Farm Waste


Has No Place in a Clean Energy Future
As the threats of global climate change and fossil fuel dependence are increasingly being
felt worldwide, countries are turning to biogas as a part of a transition to renewable en-
ergy. Biogas is being boasted as a “renewable” energy solution, designed to help mitigate
climate change. The process of anaerobic digestion converts organic material into biogas,
which can be used to produce electricity on-site, for heating, or as vehicle fuel.1

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the many environmental and health threats posed by a major SURSXSIDFWRU\IDUPVWKDWWKUHDWHQKXPDQKHDOWKFRQ-
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foodandwaterwatch.org
Fight like you live here.
Biogas From Factory Farm Waste Has No Place in a Clean Energy Future

What Is Biogas?
Biogas is a mixture of gases that are produced after plant and animal
material are broken down by microorganisms in a process called anaerobic
digestion.2 Anaerobic digestion — which occurs in a closed, oxygen-free
space called a digester — takes substances like manure from factory farms,
sewage sludge or food waste and “eats” the material, leaving mostly meth-
ane and carbon dioxide, among other gases. The material left over is called
digestate.3
Biogas can be converted into biomethane through the removal of hydro-
JHQVXOȴGHFDUERQGLR[LGHDQGPRLVWXUH4 It also can be treated and made
LQWRFRPSUHVVHGQDWXUDOJDV &1* RUOLTXHȴHGQDWXUDOJDV /1* 5, with the
UHPRYDORIVLOR[DQHVDQGK\GURJHQVXOȴGH6, to be used to generate power
or distributed through pipelines to homes and businesses.

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methane production is actually similar to that of fossil fuel PHWKDQHHPLVVLRQVLQWKH86DJULFXOWXUDOVHFWRU217KH
JDVSURGXFWLRQ2QWRSRIWKLVWKHWUDQVSRUWRIELRJDV majority of this observed increase was predominately
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The high costs of factory farm manure WRPLOOLRQWRFRQVWUXFWGHSHQGLQJRQWKHVL]HGHVLJQ
:RUOGZLGHIDFWRU\IDUPVSURGXFHPLOOLRQVRIWRQVRI DQGIHDWXUHV7KHPRQH\EHLQJIXQQHOHGLQWRGLJHVWHUV
PDQXUHDGD\0DQ\SLJDQGGDLU\FRZIDFWRU\IDUPV is wasted capital that should instead be invested in zero-
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foodandwaterwatch.org 2
Biogas From Factory Farm Waste Has No Place in a Clean Energy Future

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ZRUNHUVDQGORFDOUHVLGHQWV Rural communities across the United States are
being targeted for new digesters. In late 2018,
Biogas in the United States 6PLWKȴHOG)RRGVDQQRXQFHGLWVSODQVWREXLOG
“manure-to-energy” projects at 90 percent of the fa-
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cilities raising its pigs — in Missouri, Utah and North
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Carolina — with the goal of achieving greenhouse
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gas emission reductions.37 This $250 million joint
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venture with Dominion Energy will convert existing
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anaerobic lagoons into covered digesters, which will
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capture biogas that will then be transported to pro-
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cessing facilities around the country to be turned
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into natural gas.38
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WKHP28 The partnership claims “to promote cleaner energy,
sustainable family farms, and a brighter future for
ΖQDFWXDOLW\VRPHIDUPHUVZHUHȴQGLQJWKDWWKHFRVWVWR rural communities.”39 But the creation of even more
UXQELRJDVRSHUDWLRQVZHUHH[FHHGLQJWKHPRQH\HDUQHG dirty natural gas through anaerobic digestion at large
IURPJHQHUDWLQJHOHFWULFLW\29$GUDVWLFGHFOLQHLQHOHFWULFLW\ factory farms will do nothing for independent family-
SULFHVLQWKHSDVWGHFDGHKDVPDGHVHOOLQJWKHHOHFWULFLW\WR scale farms because digesters require such large
WKHJULGOHVVSURȴWDEOH 7KLVFRXSOHGZLWKWKHFKDQJLQJ quantities of manure. This amount of manure can
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comes right on the heels of these lawsuits, which em-
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phasized just how dangerous pig manure lagoons and

Environmental injustices stemming from digesters VSUD\ȴHOGV\VWHPVKDYHEHHQIRUQHDUE\FRPPXQL-


ties.41 But this plan does nothing to solve the prob-
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foodandwaterwatch.org 
Biogas From Factory Farm Waste Has No Place in a Clean Energy Future

ately located in communities of color where bacteria from


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come with the transport of manure and other material
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awarded millions of dollars in grants to build new
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biogas digesters that would be located in disadvan-
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taged communities in the Central Valley. The California
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digesters will mitigate global warming by cutting meth-
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ane emissions through the production of renewable
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energy.43
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But the Central Valley is a region already plagued by
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pollution and terrible environmental conditions, and
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digesters may only make things worse. The increased
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presence of factory farms to promote biogas, the use
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of diesel trucks to cart manure to and from digesters,
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and the invasive construction of pipelines to move bio-
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gas across the country pose major risks to an already
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polluted Central Valley.
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The valley is surrounded by mountains that trap air
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pollutants, resulting in poor air quality. Already, the
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concentrations of ozone and particulate matter often
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exceed the state and federal standards.44 Groundwater
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has also been degraded partly because of land use and
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agriculture practices.45
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The San Joaquin Valley, which makes up two-thirds of the IURPPDQXUHLQ(XURSH(YHQZKHQLQFHQWLYL]HGWKHKLJK
Central Valley, is home to a population that is 54 percent FRVWVRIWUDQVSRUWLQJȊUHQHZDEOHȋPHWKDQHWRWKHJULGIRU
people of color.46 This area is agriculturally rich but KHDWLQJDQGWUDQVSRUWDWLRQEHFRPHVLQFUHDVLQJO\GLɝFXOW
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foodandwaterwatch.org 
Biogas From Factory Farm Waste Has No Place in a Clean Energy Future

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Endnotes
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