More than two dozen environmental and social justice groups have signed a petition detailing concerns about the potentially harmful impacts of biogas projects in rural North Carolina — specifically to communities of color — and are calling for their elimination.
The document, signed by 26 groups including the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club and the Poor People’s Campaign, also criticizes pork producer Smithfield Foods for not upholding a promise the company made to create safer technologies to manage hog waste on swine farms in the state.
In the 2000 agreement, Smithfield Foods vowed to spend $15 million to get rid of the lagoon and spray-field system which showers hog waste onto crops, contributes to the pollution of the air and groundwater, and has adverse health effects on communities living around the industrialized hog farms.
So the Smithfield, Va.-based company partnered with Dominion Energy to create the Align Renewable Natural Gas Project in 2018, an operation in Sampson and Duplin counties to convert hog waste into biogas that can power homes.
Community members spoke out against the project over a lack of transparency from the two companies on potential dangers and for failing to remove the spray system.
Now, with the introduction of another farm bill backed by more than 20 state legislators that activists say further entrenches the lagoon and spray-field system, the work to require the pork industry to create cleaner, safer technologies in industrialized hog farming has become more complex.
Will Hendrick with the Raleigh-based NC Conservation Network said the purpose of the petition was to “speak to the realities of the moment” of hog-farming practices.
“And to specifically object to the specific ways that this specific company is proposing to generate biogas,” Hendrick said.
Through the Align RNG project, about $500 million will be invested in biogas projects in North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Arizona and California. In Sampson and Duplin counties, where many hog farms are located, 19 farms are participating in the project to cover their lagoons to trap methane gas from the hog waste and send it through a pipe to a larger, central facility.
Covering the lagoons may help prevent the production of foul smell from hog farms but does not solve the other issues associated with hog farming that contribute to air and ground pollution, environmentalists say.
“Smithfield is proposing to generate biogas in a very specific way,” Hendrick said. “That is not the only way that they could do so.”