A new Food & Water Watch analysis has found that 15 California mega-dairies are emitting enough levels of methane to be able to be picked up by satellites and imaging aircraft, despite benefiting from lucrative environmental credits on California’s signature Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
All analyzed methane releases occurred after the installation of anaerobic digesters. Under California’s faulty Low Carbon Fuel Standard marketplace, mega-dairies with digesters are considered “carbon neutral” despite clear evidence to the contrary. An ongoing rulemaking happening right now in California is the first opportunity in years to realign the credit system with the climate reality. Further analysis reveals that three quarters of the digesters with these releases received a total of $25 million in public funding over two years, all the while pumping out methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
- 16 mega-dairies with digesters feeding into the LCFS program released methane into the air at significant rates after their digesters were installed. All but one are located here in California. A total of 59 methane releases from these dairies were detected between March 2017 and July 2023.
- 49 of these methane releases have reported emissions rates, ranging from 44 to 1,729 kilograms of methane per hour (kg CH4/hr). Carbon Mapper identifies sources with average plume rates exceeding 10 kg CH4/hr as “super-emitters.”
- Most of the factory farm gas from these dairy digesters is upgraded into compressed natural gas (CNG) and used as a vehicle fuel. California Biogas (CalBio) earns LCFS credits by upgrading and piping gas from 11 of these digester projects. Other companies receiving credits using gas from these digesters include Clean Future Inc., Iogen D3 Biofuel Partners LLC, and Lakeside Pipeline LLC.
- The 11 digesters feeding into CalBio’s pathways had 34 methane releases identified. Thirty-one include emissions rates; if they released at these rates for one hour, their cumulative emissions would have the C02 equivalent of burning over 30 thousand gallons of gasoline — or driving around the equator 28 times.
Said Amanda Starbuck, Research Director at Food & Water Watch, “Even Carbon Mapper’s sporadic monitoring reports significant methane plumes, suggesting that this is just the tip of the pollution iceberg. These and other factory farms with anaerobic digesters are likely releasing significantly more methane plumes than even this analysis shows. California must stop lavishly rewarding factory farm biogas under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard program as these digesters clearly do not make dairy and other factory farms carbon negative. Instead, they provide cover for the expansion of factory farms and factory farm gas, which exacerbates California’s efforts to combat climate change while wasting hundreds of millions of public dollars.”
Further analysis can be found here.