Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations have been threatening the health, environment, and local economies of Missouri for decades and now the agriculture industry is seeking bolster CAFOs’ presence in US agriculture even more with the promotion of Factory Farm Biogas. We’ve seen factory farm biogas operations propped up in Missouri- specifically thanks to a St. Louis-based company Roeslein Alternative Energy setting up biogas digesters at nearly all Smithfield Class IA facilities in Northern Missouri. Factory farm biogas is NOT an alternative source of energy Missouri should welcome. We are concerned that industrial agriculture interest groups in the state will be seeking to grow factory farm biogas operations in the very near future. Missourians need to let their elected officials know that we don’t want to be exposed to the harms that come from factory farm biogas operations on top of all of the harms of CAFOs already (see CAFO page for more information). MCE, Sierra Club, and other partners have pulled data together below to debunk the common talking points of proponents of factory farm biogas. Read below to learn more!
DEBUNKING the Myths of Factory Farm Biogas
Facilities that capture methane from livestock manure at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) goes by many different names – “biogas”, “renewable natural gas” (RNG), “fossil gas alternatives” (FGAs), “manure digesters”, and so on – but should be more adequately labeled for the industry scheme that it is: “factory farm biogas.”
Proponents want to brand such gas as a green, low-carbon fuel. They also want the public to believe that gas is necessary in order to maintain stable sources of energy. In reality, their desired plan would cause us to double down on fossil fuel and fossil fuel-like energy when we should be doubling down on the expansion of renewable energy sources instead. We should be eliminating any incentives that lead to more fossil gas exploration and fossil fuel-like (i.e., factory farm biogas) manufacturing. By labeling fossil gas and fossil-like gas ‘green’, we’re sending a catastrophic message to the private sector and the rest of the world that natural and biogases are just as legitimate as solar, wind, wave, and other zero-emission renewables. Below, we have elaborated to debunk four of the biggest myths held by proponents of factory farm biogas.
Myth: Factory farm biogas projects are good for the environment.
Truth: Factory farm biogas is a dirty dead-end that further entrenches both oil and gas infrastructure and the industrial livestock model of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Both of these systems rely on exploitation of resources and extraction of wealth from rural communities.
Truth: CAFOs in Missouri produce 987 million gallons of animal and process waste according to Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records in 2021.1 Methane capture at CAFOs does not reduce the amount, nor the nutrient content of waste that still has to be stored and applied in rural communities and in Missouri’s watersheds.2 In fact, covering lagoons increases the amount of nitrogen in the lagoon waste by up to 3.5 times that of waste in open lagoons.3 Additionally, because the high cost of implementing factory farm biogas is more attainable for the largest producers, this encourages more concentration of animals and more manure production.4
Truth: CAFOs will continue to violate regulations and pollute the environment regardless of factory farm biogas production. Neighboring residents and waterways will still be subjected to spills, leaks, over-application of nutrients on farmland, and airborne emissions.5
Myth: Factory farm biogas is a clean energy source that cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Truth: “[A]naerobic digesters are solving problems only created by large-scale industrial animal agriculture in the first place, problems that are avoided in more sustainable, pasture-based models.”6
Truth: Despite methane capture at CAFOs, the extreme concentration of animals and the land application of waste continue to release harmful gasses and emissions into the air.4
Truth: The intentional production of methane sources to increase capture can, in itself, lead to more emissions through changing land use, storage leaks, and burning the gas, a process that releases the same pollutants as the combustion of fossil fuels.4, 5
Myth: Factory farm biogas will help us make the needed transition away from fossil fuels.
Truth: The fossil fuel industry has perpetuated the false promise of “fossil gas alternatives” (FGAs) like factory farm biogas to slow widespread electrification efforts.4,7
Truth: There is no way to scale up factory farm biogas to meet our energy requirements. To be as viable as wind and solar, many more CAFOs would need to be built as well as many more pipelines. If maximum use of CAFOs for biogas was set up, it would supply 13% of energy needed to power the US by 2040.4
Truth: “Replacing fossil gas with fossil gas alternatives (FGAs) is extremely costly. High production costs mean FGAs range from 4 to 17 times more expensive than fossil gas.”4
Truth: “[A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council] estimates that capturable waste methane (e.g., from uncontrolled landfills and wastewater treatment plants) is less than 1% of current gas demand. The rest must be intentionally produced and will pose the risk of additional methane leakage that can offset any potential emission reductions.”4
Myth: Factory farm biogas is an affordable solution that will generate new revenue for farmers.
Truth: Factory farm biogas is significantly more expensive to produce and manage than fossil fuels with anaerobic digester projects costing up hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.4
Truth: Most digester projects are infeasible without government support, and a significant portion of digester revenue is reliant on the sale of government-created “credits”.8
Truth: Government subsidies and investments in factory farm biogas funnel tax payer dollars into continued dependence on fossil fuel gas while diverting funding away from a true clean energy future.8
Truth: Anaerobic digesters are complex systems that require additional training and full-time labor to maintain.9
1 Missouri Department of Natural Resources Web Map Viewer, https://modnr.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=cf630b020a17452fb30994cb4b36f003
2 S.G. Lupis et al., “Best Management Practices for Reducing Ammonia Emissions: Lagoon Covers” Colorado State University Extension, 2012, available at https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/livestk/01631b.pdf.
3“Hog farming has a massive poop problem” (Vox), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsUNylsiDH8
4 “Rhetoric vs. Reality: The Myth of ‘Renewable Natural Gas’ for Building Decarbonization” (Earthjustice) https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/feature/2020/report-decarb/Report_Building-Decarbonization-2020.pdf.
5 “The False Promises of Biogas: Why Biogas is an Environmental Justice Issue” https://sraproject.org/wp-content/uploads/False-Promsies-FactoryFarmGas.pdf
6 “The misbegotten promise of anaerobic digesters” (The Counter), https://thecounter.org/misbegotten-promise-anaerobic-digesters-cafo/
7 “Despite Gas Industry Claims, ‘Renewable’ Gas is Not Viable Path to Cut Pollution from Buildings” (Sierra Club) https://www.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2021/10/despite-gas-industry-claims-renewable-gas-not-viable-path-cut-pollution
8 “Are biogas subsidies benefiting the largest industrial animal farms?” (Civil Eats) https://civileats.com/2021/09/20/are-biogas-subsidies-benefiting-the-largest-industrial-animal-farms/
9 AgStar Project Development Handbook https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2014-12/documents/agstar-handbook.pdf