The dirty truth about biogas production and how to take action in NC

Align Renewable Natural Gas’ proposed project relies on and entrenches an outdated, primitive system that stores untreated hog feces and urine in large, unlined pits, and then sprays the liquid waste onto nearby cropland. 

Updated December 2 at 12pm:

In comments submitted to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, SELC shows that Smithfield Foods’ and Dominion Energy’s draft air quality permit for its Grady Road Project is unlawful because it relies on unsupported, implausible, and ever-shifting representations from Smithfield subsidiary Align about its environmental and public health impacts.

For example, DEQ has unquestioningly accepted Align’s inconsistent statements about the amount of biogas produced by the 19 hog operations supplying the facility, as well as sulfur dioxide emitted by the upgrading facility.

The Division of Air Quality does not even know the identity of the vast majority of hog operations that will supply biogas to the central upgrading facility, or the location of over 30 miles of pipelines connecting the hog operations and upgrading facility. And DEQ has failed to acknowledge the harmful air and water quality impacts caused by capping existing hog waste lagoons, which will further entrench a primitive, unsafe waste management practice that disproportionately impacts communities of color and which Smithfield promised to phase out over 20 years ago.

SELC submitted comments on behalf of a host of clients including Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, North Carolina Conservation Network, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Cape Fear River Watch, Waterkeeper Alliance, Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Sierra Club, Sound Rivers, Crystal Coast Waterkeeper, White Oak-New River Waterkeeper Alliance, Yadkin Riverkeeper, Winyah Rivers Alliance, Toxic Free North Carolina, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Justice, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Food & Water Watch.


As originally reported:

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is taking public comments on a draft air quality permit for the first project that relies on polluting industrial-scale pits of hog manure and urine to capture biogas by Align Renewable Natural Gas – a joint venture of industrial hog producer Smithfield Foods and energy giant Dominion Energy. The public can submit comments until November 20, 2020, and a virtual public hearing will be held on November 16.

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Industrial hog farms

This overhead view shows 3 of the massive lagoons typical of industrial hog farms, as well as how close the lagoons are to a nearby waterway. (@Rick Dove/Waterkeeper Alliance)

As part of this project, called the Grady Road Project, Align will:

  • Cap open-air waste pits with hog feces and urine at 19 industrial hog operations in Duplin and Sampson counties to capture biogas;
  • lay a maze of 30+ miles of gas pipeline through the low-lying coastal plain to transport the captured biogas; and
  • construct anupgrading facility to process all biogas and inject it into the existing natural gas pipeline.

The permit is supposed to limit air pollution from the upgrading facility to be located in Turkey, North Carolina, but the DEQ has failed to account for the significant air pollution from all 19 industrial hog operations involved in the project.

Align’s project relies on and entrenches an outdated, primitive system that stores untreated hog feces and urine in large, unlined pits, and then sprays the liquid waste onto nearby cropland.

Communities in eastern North Carolina have carried the burden of pollution from the lagoon and sprayfield system for too long. DEQ cannot allow Smithfield to make even more profit from its pollution by greenlighting this project.”

—Attorney Blakely Hildebrand

Capping hog waste pits to make biogas makes water pollution worse, and does little to address noxious odors from industrial hog operations. Covering a lagoon with a digester does not make the lagoon any less vulnerable to flooding during hurricanes or other major weather events. Align’s project harms communities, our rivers and streams, and the air we breathe while Smithfield and Dominion Energy stand to make money by displacing the burden of their pollution onto families and communities. Communities of color in eastern North Carolina disproportionately bear the burden of pollution from industrial hog operations.

“Smithfield promised North Carolinians that it would clean up its mess and install cleaner technology on its hog operations 20 years ago, and the company has failed to uphold that promise,” says Attorney Blakely Hildebrand. “Communities in eastern North Carolina have carried the burden of pollution from the lagoon and sprayfield system for too long. DEQ cannot allow Smithfield make even more profit from its pollution by greenlighting this project.”

Align has yet to disclose to DEQ all critical details about the project, including which industrial hog operations are part of the project and where the company will lay a pipeline.

If the Department approves the Grady Road Project without demanding all information from the industry or addressing all of the pollution problems of the lagoon and sprayfield system, communities, our rivers and streams, and the air quality in eastern North Carolina will suffer.

It is critical that North Carolinians make their concerns heard on this permit. The Grady Road Project is the first of several large biogas projects planned for eastern North Carolina. Additional information on the project is available here in English or here in Spanish. Click here for more information about the hearing, including registration details.

North Carolinians can also safely weigh in by submitting written comments to the Department on the draft permit by November 20, either by email to the following address with the subject line “Align Energy”: [email protected]
Or by mailing comments to:

Dean Carroll

Wilmington Regional Office

127 Cardinal Drive Ext.

Wilmington, NC 28405

The public may also leave a voicemail with comments on the project at the following phone number: 919-707-8714.

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