Is Biogas a net positive or negative?

In which we put anaerobic digesters on trial:

North Carolina’s Division of Air Quality wants to hear from people in Duplin and Sampson counties about a proposed biogas facility. It’s called Align RNG. It’s a partnership between Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods. The project involves converting manure from 19 local hog farms into renewable energy.

“The methane product that is created, it gets inserted into this natural gas pipeline that’s then used for commercial and residential use,” said Zaynab Nasif, spokesperson for the NCDAQ.

This is one of those issues that has the environmental community split into opposing camps, with each side making some pretty solid arguments. I will endeavor to cover those equally, which means I'll probably piss everybody off. We'll start with taking a look at the science involved:

Fracking companies are dying, and leaving leaking wells behind

So much for the vaunted Free Enterprise system:

The day the debt-ridden Texas oil producer MDC Energy filed for bankruptcy eight months ago, a tank at one of its wells was furiously leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. As of last week, dangerous, invisible gases were still spewing into the air.

By one estimate, the company would need more than $40 million to clean up its wells if they were permanently closed. But the debts of MDC’s parent company now exceed the value of its assets by more than $180 million.

Had another discussion recently about "flaring," wherein the oil/gas drillers burn gas in a spectacular display of sometimes 30 ft flames. I agreed that it was wasteful, but it's what you can't see that is the problem. Venting that gas without flaring it does much more damage than burning it off, and there is not nearly enough attention paid to this problem. Or the irresponsible behavior of the companies who should be forced to cap those wells:

The switch to nat gas power plants a climate nightmare

And we're going to end up paying for it:

This is not an isolated repurposing from Duke, but merely the beginning of a wave as Duke seeks to build 15 or more such plants across North Carolina in the coming years. As welcome as the news was for us locally that our toxin-spewing, mountain-destroying coal burner would soon be put out to pasture, this new development is hardly an improvement. Statewide, Duke is simply trading in one destructive, extractive energy source for another while continuing to milk legally guaranteed profits from its outrageous monopoly privilege over North Carolina ratepayers.

Like many of my environmental friends, I have been pleased to see the closure of several old and dirty coal plants in Duke Energy's "fleet." They closed more than I thought they would, which brought me to (at least) two realizations: 1) They're up to something, and 2) They had a hell of a lot more capacity than they have claimed. Another realization: Even with these closures, they are still able to provide for current power demands. Meaning, the smaller incremental addition of renewable energy generation via wind and solar farms (and waste-to-energy projects, geothermal, etc.) could easily keep up with increasing demand. But guess what? Large power plant construction projects are moneymakers. Billions, which is the only unit of measurement Duke Energy pays attention to. But forget about money for a second while we examine the climate change dangers of ramping up nat gas plants:

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