Renewable natural gas (RNG), derived from the capture and recycling of organic waste materials sourced from farms, landfills, food waste, wastewater facilities, and other outlets, is gaining attention.
Cows Poop Becomes Useful, Maybe
In a collaborative effort, Swift County and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will host an informative public meeting later this month to discuss a proposed $13.9 million pipeline initiative.
On January 2, the Swift County Board of Commissioners granted approval for the joint meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on January 30 at McKinney’s in Benson.
According to the USDA, dairy cows can produce 80 pounds of manure per day. Doctor Saqib Mukhtar is the Associate Dean for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. He explained that cows have a special organ called a rumen.
In the rumen, tiny microorganisms break down the food and release gas. When the cows poop, some of those microbes continue to break down the manure, releasing more gas into the atmosphere, mostly methane.
Dooley’s Natural Gas, headquartered in Willmar, aims to implement a 28-mile-long pipeline project to capture RNG from the four Riverview dairy operations situated in Swift, Chippewa, and Kandiyohi counties. Riverview, based in Morris, operates large dairies in the region.
The RNG will be transported to the Alliance Transmission Pipeline at a connection site in Swift County. The Dooley’s Natural Gas project involves laying 28 miles of two- and four-inch diameter, high-density polyethylene pipe to transport the gas at low pressure (100 pounds per square inch).
A final 100-foot pipeline segment, operating at high pressure (up to 2,000 pounds per square inch gauge), will connect to the Alliance Transmission Pipeline.
This pipeline will link the four Riverview Dairies to the Alliance Transmission Pipeline, with individual counties responsible for permitting the low-pressure segments within their boundaries. The high-pressure line requires approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Micah Revell, a Minneapolis attorney representing the project, informed the Swift County Board that Dooley’s will bury the pipeline underground along the existing right-of-way to connect Meadow Star Dairy, East Dublin Dairy, Swenoda Dairy, and Louriston Dairy. The project also includes natural gas compressors, shutout valves, a control center, and flaring equipment.
Riverview and Amp Americas, a company invested in the renewable transportation fuel industry, currently operate a similar line connecting three Riverview dairies in Stevens County.
The RNG delivered to the Alliance Transmission Pipeline is used as transportation fuel, with credits provided by California and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to incentivize its use. Amp Americas’ representative, Andy Dvoracek, shared during an October presentation to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners that the project is fully funded.
Work is underway to build biodigesters at each of the four Riverview dairies, converting manure into renewable methane, which is then purified into RNG for injection into the pipeline. The company has requested each county to consider authorizing up to $45 million in tax-exempt bonds, with the possibility of seeking refinancing at a later date.
But critics argue that the emergence of an alliance of industrial agriculture, Big Oil, and the U.S. government to generate energy from livestock waste is ripe with peril. They say that air pollutants and waste discharged from farms and from already existing farm-based biodigesters receive scant federal and state oversight. They fear that without strict regulation, manure digesters could make water and air pollution worse, not better. Industrial-sized farms, including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), already are one of the nation’s largest sources of water pollution, and among the principal causes of air pollution.
“We’re facing a very dystopian future where we’ve turned animals in these confinement operations into our gas stations and power plants,” said Tyler Lobdell, an attorney and biodigester expert with the nonprofit environmental group Food & Water Watch. “That should alarm anyone who cares about public health or environmental protection because factory farms by their nature are designed to be extractive and polluting facilities. That’s just how they operate.”