Biogas

North Carolina Communities Say NO Biogas

 

Smithfield and Dominion have shown over and over: they will put your life and your livelihood on the line—if it lines their pockets. Instead of finding a way to get hog waste out of our water and out of our lungs, these corporations want to turn a bigger profit by making it into more dangerous biogas. 

 

Quick Background: What Is “Directed Biogas?”

 

  • When swine feces and urine are stored and covered, they create methane gas that can be extracted to generate electricity.  This is often called “biogas.”
  • On a small scale, this gas can be used to power operations right on the farm where it’s generated. 
  • But on a larger scale, producing biogas involves numerous farms capping large, unlined hog waste lagoons; trapping the methane gas from the waste; and transporting that gas through a maze of pipelines in communities to a central, company-owned plant for processing. Once processed, the company injects the gas into larger national gas pipelines. This process is collectively referred to as a “directed biogas” project.

 

Why Is Biogas A Problem in Eastern North Carolina?

 

Smithfield is in cahoots with Dominion to make money off of the hog waste problem they said they couldn’t afford to fix.

  • More than 20 years ago, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, promised to abandon the harmful hog waste lagoon and sprayfield system it forced its contract growers to use, in favor of cleaner, more sustainable ways to manage swine waste.
  • Over the last two decades, NCEJN and other groups have been fighting to hold Smithfield, environmental regulators, and legislators accountable to that promise.
  • Unfortunately, even after new technologies were developed, Smithfield claimed it could not afford to install them. 
  • Now Smithfield is trying to make more money by working with Dominion to install so-called “directed biogas” projects.
  • These projects make the hog waste pollution problem worse — posing a greater threat to the health of North Carolina families.
  • The community can’t afford and shouldn’t have to bear another 20 years of industry and government malpractice.
  • In November 2018, Smithfield and Dominion Energy joined forces to create a company known as Align Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). 
  • Align announced a plan last year to invest $500 million to install and operate large scale, directed biogas projects across eastern North Carolina.
  • Now, Align is seeking a permit from the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to build “the Grady Run Project,” the first of its biogas processing plants in Duplin County, along with installing pipelines and digesters across 19 hog farms in Duplin and Sampson counties.
  • On Monday, November 16th at 6pm DEQ is holding a virtual public hearing on the project, followed by a period during which they’ll accept written comments.

 

Our Position 

 

Biogas is poisonous from start to finish: the methods used to make it, to move it, and to process it make our air unbreathable, our water undrinkable, and our homes unlivable.

  • When hog lagoons are capped to produce biogas, they turn the liquid waste even more toxic. When that waste is sprayed onto fields or overflows during major storms, it poisons the well water we drink, the soil on which our children play, and the rivers and streams where we fish.  
  • Research has proven that those of us who live near hog operations die sooner and more often from diseases related to polluted air and water: anemia, kidney disease and tuberculosis.  
  • The noxious odors from hog operations keep us prisoner in our own homes…and even there we’re not safe: research has shown traces of pig feces on our indoor appliances.  
  • Duplin and neighboring counties are on a floodplain, which makes biogas projects a triple threat: 
    • we’re at greater risk from being flooded with hog waste during hurricanes; 
    • by being built over wetlands, pipelines destroy what little flood defense we have left, 
    • and the methane that is prone to leak from a biogas project is 86 times worse for our climate than carbon—leading to more frequent and more extreme storms in the first place.

 

Biogas is Smithfield’s latest scheme to “get rich quick”—making money off a problem they created and promised to fix—while Black, brown, and poor people pay the price.

  • Smithfield has shown us before and during this pandemic: they don’t care whether you’re a resident, a hog farmer, or a plant worker, they will put your life and your livelihood on the line if it lines their pockets. 
  • If you’re Black, Latinx/Latino, Indigenous, or white and low-income, your life matters even less to them; ask yourself why our communities are chosen again and again to host the most polluting projects and corrupt industries.
  • Neither the residents nor contract growers would see much of the wealth generated by these biogas projects anyway; it would be piped out of our community and into the pockets of pork and gas CEOs. 
  • Smithfield would continue to intimidate contract growers into producing biogas and pit neighbor against neighbor for its own ends.  

 

Our legislators and regulators should be working for us, not for Smithfield and Dominion. 

  • From the time of slavery to today, our families have fought for, built, and preserved this land. Our communities deserve to decide what’s built here and who benefits.
  • If our elected leaders and environmental watchdogs truly serve the people, they should devote their attention and resources to ways of generating energy and producing food that don’t put their constituents’ lives at risk.
  • If our lawmakers are approving permits for biogas projects and pipelines, it’s clear they work for corporations – not the people. 

 

Ultimately, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to explore better ways to meet our energy needs and raise hogs sustainably. Those ways already exist.

  • In the short term, millions of dollars have already been spent figuring out better ways to handle hog waste that—unlike biogas—won’t make pollution worse. We have real solutions right now that work for farmers and communities alike;  we don’t need and don’t want what Smithfield and Dominion are selling.
  • In the long term, the future of food and energy doesn’t need to include giant greedy monopolies like Smithfield and Dominion. The pandemic has already shown us what’s possible. 

 

What Can The Community Do?  

 

The community can tune in and turn up the volume on the danger of Align’s (Smithfield/Dominion) biogas plan.

  • The meeting on Monday, November 16th at 6pm will likely be one of the only chances community members will have to weigh in before Align ramps up Grady Run and other projects across the region. 
  • DEQ often claims (falsely) that lack of community participation in meetings means that the community approves or doesn’t care about new projects coming in. Let’s make sure they can’t claim that excuse this time.
  • Community members can call in or join the meeting online:. 
    • The link to join is https://bit.ly/3mlsbZO 
    • The call-in number to join is 415-655-0003, Access Code 171-380-3983
    • The meeting password is NCDAQ
    • If community members plan to speak, they must register no later than 4pm that day by visiting https://bit.ly/33qAtqx or calling 919-618-0968.
  • Community members can and should also submit comments to DEQ after the meeting. You have until Friday, November 20th at 5pm. You can either
    • email your comments to address DAQ.publiccomments@ncdenr.gov with the subject line “Align Energy,”
    • leave a voicemail with your comments at 919-707-8714,
    • or mail your comments to Dean Carroll, Wilmington Regional Office, 127 Cardinal Drive Ext., Wilmington, NC 28405.
  • Community members should also call or write their state legislators to let them know that the community is overwhelmingly opposed to the Grady Run project and any other biogas plans from Align.