On the issues that matter in Malone NY (USA)

Methane Digesters Are
A Bad Idea

Says the Sierra Club
and 100's of other
environmental organizations
around the world

Picture of Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

May 3, 2023

Cowshit 101

This is going to be an unsavory lecture on cowshit. Lots and lots of cowshit. More cowshit than you ever imagined. And the vexing problem of getting rid of it.

First, a warning. You’re going to read several variations on the word “shit.” This is unavoidable if we’re going to be honest, for it’s time to stop sugar-coating the cowshit crisis, and call a spade a spade.  Besides, I had my lecture vetted by a cool nun—a skate-boarder—who said she thought it would be okay to be blunt and frank. (I like nuns.)

Cows make lots of shit. I mean, mountains of shit.

Cowshit gives off methane gas (CH₄). So do cow farts and cow belches. Why? Because cows are ruminants: they have 2 stomachs, in one of which the methane is produced by bacteria. If they don’t belch and fart, they will literally explode. (An exploded cow is not a pretty sight.)

When you think of cows, don’t just imagine milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese. Cows are methane factories!

So what?
Who cares?

Mother Earth cares, say many scientists! Imagine the earth having a thin band of atmosphere around it: atmosphere composed of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, water vapor, carbon dioxide. This membrane of “atmosphere” is like the placenta around a developing fetus—without it, we’re toast.

If any of these atmospheric gases trap heat, like a plant nursery  greenhouse does, it can heat up the atmosphere.

It turns out that methane released into the atmosphere traps heat far more than any other gas, including water vapor and carbon dioxide. Although there’s less methane (CH₄) in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2); unit per unit, CH₄ inherently exceeds CO2 in trapping heat.

So what's this got to do with cows?!

The same scientists who claim methane is the worst greenhouse gas, tell us that the largest single source of this atmospheric methane (CH₄) is from livestock: dairy cows, beef cattle, chickens, and hogs. Especially cows. 

Why cows? Because there are so many of them. And they’re all farting, belching, and most of all making shit. As the shit decomposes, it gives off methane (CH₄).

Cows are methane factories!

(Sounds like bullshit to me!)

Okay, smarty pants, why are cows now a problem and they weren't before?

I’m glad you asked! You can see the reason in the image, below. 

To the left of the white fence is a traditional, pasture-based dairy farm. 

To the right of the white fence is a new and different concept of diary farming—except that it’s not a “farm”; it’s a factory. A factory consisting of hundreds, even thousands, of dairy cows and heifers who spend their lifetime in a huge building where they are typically immobilized in a steel head restraint. Here they are loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones.

These factory farms go by the bureaucratic name, Concentrated Animal Feeling Operations (CAFOs).

Drawing by Lindsey Balbierz.
In a real CAFO, the cows spend their lifetime indoors
in huge barns. Unfortunately, Lindsey did not show this.

Here is a realistic description on a dairy CAFO:

Here is the NYS DEC CAFO map the above individual refers to:

Pasture-raised dairy cows
Wow! Big difference!
Factory-farmed dairy cows
Excuse me, Professor Martin! I thought this was going to be about methane digesters! So far it's all about cowshit. Um, have you lost your way in the cowshit?
Bear with me, my dear. In order to understand methane digesters you must first come to grips with cowshit.

Methane from cow (bovine) burps, farts, and manure is okay if we’re talking about your average, traditional dairy farm, like we’ve had in the North Country for centuries. In other words, pasture-raised cows. The key word is “pasture.”

Why is this so? 

Methane from bovine burps, farts, and shit is NOT okay if we’re talking about CAFOs. 

Namely, hundreds of cows that spend their entire lifetime in barns, where their manure accumulates in huge quantities and must be disposed of.

Factory-farmed cows require antibiotics and growth hormones (to speed up the onset of lactation and exaggerate milk production). The antibiotics and hormones, of course, get into their manure and, naturally, their milk.


CAFOs mix this antibiotic and hormone-laden shit with water in “giant swimming pools of liquid manure”[1]“The misbegotten promise of anaerobic digesters,” The Counter (Dec. 3, 2019) euphemistically referred to as lagoons or ponds—vast swimming pools of shit that are lined with a rubberized membrane—which can leak.

CAFO cowshit lagoon giving off CH₄ into the atmosphere
"Ain't no way I'm swimmin' in that shit!"

When these ponds leak or overflow during a heavy rain, this vile cocktail seeps into the ground (where it readily poisons neighbors’ wells) and often makes its way into brooks and streams that feed into larger rivers, fouling these waterways and creating algal and milfoil blooms that deplete the oxygen dissolved in the water—oxygen needed by fish.

Here are several articles from Wikipedia discussing at length the problems with CAFOs. (Click here for the source.) 

What about Carsada Dairy at the west end of Malone? Is that a CAFO?

NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) vaguely defines a CAFO as “an animal feeding operation (farm) that meets certain animal size thresholds and that also confines those animals for 45 days or more in any 12-month period in an area that does not produce vegetation. New York State has roughly 500 CAFOs, the majority of which are dairy farms with 300 or more cows and associated livestock operations.”

All CAFOs in NYS are licensed by DEC and are supposed to meet stringent requirements regarding the disposal of manure and liquids and care of animals. Whether these licensed CAFOs follow the rules is another story.

If Carsada Dairy is technically a CAFO, it is subject to DEC’s regulations. But, it can also be subject to Town of Malone regulations—an important point. As far as I know, the Town of Malone has no statutes regulating CAFOs or dairy farms in general—or hog or chicken farms, for that matter. 

That said, Carsada Dairy is part of the Cabot Dairy Farm consortium, which does NOT use growth hormones. Antibiotics? I don’t know; Cabot says nothing about them on its website.

Okay! So CAFOs have a shit disposal problem!

Yep, they sure do! 

The solution—if we can call it that!—was for CAFOs to team up with natural gas companies and harvest the methane from the cow poop.

"Biogas" from cowshit
CAFO cowshit lagoon
A cowshit methane digester

That's cool!

According to the concept above, chicken-shit, pig-shit, and cow-shit is “digested” in an anaerobic (“no oxygen”) huge container, where the methane biological-gas (biogas) is captured, then purified, and then burned for electricity or heat or compressed into Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and used for vehicle fuel—or pumped into gas lines like Liberty Utility’s gas lines in Malone NY. 

The solid residue, called the “digestate,” is used for bedding livestock, spreading on farm fields as fertilizer, and to augment the nitrogen and phosphorous on farm fields.

"Agricultural methane digesters are NOT cool!"

The Sierra Club says they’re definitely not cool! So do hundreds of other environmental groups around the world.

Why? Mainly because digesters are a scam invented by the Factory Farm Industry teaming up with the Natural Gas Industry to harvest a piddling amount of methane at a huge cost to the taxpayer, since these methane (biogas) plants are heavily subsidized by tax dollars—costing in the many hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for each digester complex.

It’s important to clarify that conventional, medium-sized and small dairy farms—where cows are pasture-raised—do not need methane digesters, for reasons explained above. 

Only CAFOs want them and can afford them, because only CAFOs have an out-of-control, hellacious shit problem!

But the biggest problem, the issue that has all the environmental groups in an uproar, is that these biogas digesters actually encourage the creation of CAFOs or the enlarging of current CAFOs.

"I don't want my tax dollars paying for this CAFO shit-disposal problem!"
Agricultural methane digesters

(Sounds like more bullshit to me!)

Okay, smarty pants, how do you know they "breed" CAFOs? You're just making this shit up!

I’m glad you asked! Studies show that the more methane digesters you have, the more that CAFOs proliferate. No shit!

This is why all the environmentalists are pissed off!

It’s like the “needle exchange” program dreamed up by the left in cities like San Francisco. Initially the argument was that, by providing free, sterile needles to heroin addicts, you could get these people into treatment more readily and avoid the diseases transmitted by re-used needles. In theory, this would eventually reduce the number of addicts.

It didn’t work. It did just the opposite. The “free, sterile needle” program bred heroin addiction. 

Here is an excellent article explaining the entire issue, including the problem with digesters, by a group called Food & Water Action. Click here to download the article.

Below, is a 75-page petition submitted to the federal EPA two years ago by 25 environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, addressing the “factory farm gas” crisis and the role methane digesters play in aggravating the problem. Click here to download the article, highlighted here and there by me.

The petition argues for a return to pasture-fed dairy and beef cattle farms. Interestingly, many local and regional farm organizations support this request. As I noted, above, studies indicate that traditional, pasture-fed dairy farms eliminate the methane risk to climate change.

The culprit, says the petition, is the massive production of cow and hog feces in CAFOs, with a corresponding massive production of methane off-gassing in cowshit and hogshit “ponds.” 

Whoa! Get a load of that "digestate" crap!

Added to this is the excessive nitrogen in the “digestate” produced by digesters. The hyper-nitrogenous digestate sterilizes the farm soils where it is applied. In addition, the excessive nitrogen and phosphorous often wind up in groundwater and streams and rivers, poisoning well-water and creating algal blooms and other eutrophication and oxygen depletion in surface waterways.

Lastly, the report points out that, instead of fixing the factory farm gas problem, methane digesters literally fuel the crisis by encouraging the creation of new CAFOs and expansion of existing CAFOs. (Besides, the methane captured in the digesters simply creates more burned carbon when it’s burned as fuel, releasing carbon into the atmosphere as more CO2.)

Given NYS’s ambitious atmospheric carbon elimination goals, laid out in the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act  (2019), methane digesters which, by definition, foster CAFOs, are the wrong way to proceed. Encouraging pasture-fed dairy farming which, by definition, does not require industrial digesters, is the clear way forward. 

Here is the Sierra Club’s official position on methane (biogas) digesters, highlighted by me. Click here to download the article.

The following is a Sierra Club article on CAFOs and well-water pollution. Click here to download the article.

Another Sierra Club article on methane digesters and CAFOs. Click here to download the article.

“The Misbegotten Promise of Anaerobic Digesters,” in The Counter. Click here to download the article.

“The Dairy Digester Dilemma,” Center for Food Safety. Click here to download the article.

“We Can’t Let This Gas Greenwash Polluting Factory Farms,” Food & Water Watch. Click here to download the article.

“2 Oregon Dairy Manure Digesters Cited for Air Quality Violations,” The Statesman Journal (Oregon). Click here to download the article.

“The EPA’s Failure to Track Factory Farms,” Food & Water Watch. Click here to download the article.

The End

6 thoughts on “Why Methane Digesters Are a Bad Idea”

  1. Thank you for sharing this important information.

    I read it over again, as a manure digester was just built this late summer. Located across the road from our local school. Word has it, this multi mega dairy farmer had to greatly increase his herd to “qualify” for this digester. We surely know who’s paying for this.

    I greatly appreciate this information, and will be sharing it as well.

    So many have no idea what a digester entails.

    Many thanks.

  2. Your article is not cowshit but bullshit. There is no problem with global warming. Man-made CO2 is insignificant as are the other gases. Intellectualized, lunatic, pretentious left-wing anti-human nonsense.

    Editor’s reply: (Albert! Shhh! Please, not so loud! Of course the global warming argument is bullshit. Worse than bullshit! It’s also horseshit and cowshit with some dogshit thrown in. It’s the biggest lie since the invention of gods, including the biblical God. (I’ve published books on the latter with the best university presses in the world.) Read an article I published on this site some years ago: “Dutch Farmers in Mass Revolt against Green Fascism.”)

    By now you’re scratching your head, wondering why I wrote the article. I wrote it as a cynic. I wrote it to use the Green Fascist argument against itself. My reasoning was as follows: The global warmists are hopeless screwballs. They have a zeal that makes Ignatius Loyola’s Christian fervor look lame. Civilization is so fucked up that the only way to counter the Warmist Nazis is to use their own tools against them. This was the strategy of my article: “Okay you guys, if you’re gonna be scrupulous about your climate-warming fantasies and imperialism, then it’s game on: Shut down these friggin’ CAFOs and their attached methane digesters which, cumulatively, dump methane into the atmosphere!” I used the same tactic martial artists use: use the other guy’s maneuvers and weapons against him.

    Albert, I have been fighting the cult and apparatus of global warming for 20 years. Peruse the web and see what the wind & solar companies think of me. You will get an earful. Peruse this blog and you will find all sorts of articles confirming this.

    We’re fellow travelers, my friend. Keep up the good work! And I’m glad you objected to my article. I, too, object to it, except that it in fact accomplishes what I wanted to accomplish: it uses the fucked-up reasoning and data of the Global Warmists to torpedo a palpable, demonstrable abomination and horror, which is the factory-production of the descendants of aurochs (cows) and, by extension, the factory production of shit whose organic and inorganic contents finds its way into streams and rivers and well-water, and into the soil — plus into the air, for that matter. Is any of this methane or carbon dioxide going to affect planet earth’s climate? Of course not! Only an uneducated, brainwashed moron thinks that. Turns out there are hundreds of millions of morons who think this, including my adult children, my siblings, and my wife’s siblings.

    Albert, think of it this way: If I can shut down CAFOs by using their own upside-down reasoning and fake data, I’m delighted.

  3. Thanks for researching and putting this together.

    How do we make it possible for more people to see this information and become informed?

    You wrote:

    Mainly because digesters are a scam invented by the Factory Farm Industry teaming up with the Natural Gas Industry to harvest a piddling amount of methane at a huge cost to the taxpayer, since these methane (biogas) plants are heavily subsidized by tax dollars—costing in the many hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for each digester complex.

    This clearly explains the way corporate business is done here in the USA:

    1) if there’s a problem,
    2) find a bullshit solution that’s all about making money for another corporate entity,
    3) charge the taxpayers for putting it into action, after
    4) the taxpayers have been bullshit-brainwashed to believe it’s some beautiful “green” way to save the planet and humanity.

    And it seems a huge segment of the population buys into the bullshit instead of thinking logically and with common sense.

    Thanks again for sharing this very well put together and referenced information.

    We must return to small farms, where farmers actually are honored for the living work they do providing nourishment for the population while taking care of the land around them and the animals they are fortunate to have in their care, AND farmers are paid a very viable living wage for their knowledge, wisdom, hard work, and dedication to the Earth. This would be amazing! Can we see this in my lifetime?

    We waste money and political bullshit on things that do not matter. We spend huge sums of money for doctors, lawyers, and our bullshit disease-care system. If we put that money into paying the people who feed us, and paying them well, we could feed the population with REAL NOURISHING FOOD, eliminate disease, and be paying the real doctors of health: ecologically-minded farmers!

    Editor’s reply: Hear hear! My heart soared reading this.

    For those of you who don’t know, Paula is a RN and phenomenal healer. Click here for her website. When my wife and I had Covid, we appealed to Paula for help. She was wonderful!

  4. As a small dairy farmer (30 cows), I’d like to verify and correct one aspect of your article. Milk from a lactating cow that has been given antibiotics is strictly forbidden to be shipped to the milk plant until a given withdrawal time has been fulfilled and a milk sample has verified that there is no residue antibiotic.

    The Agrimark co-op that Carsada Farm is with has a zero milk production hormone tolerance.

    That being said. The antibiotics do end up in the manure. And growth hormones of some type are fed to heifers, which also ends up in the manure.

    Otherwise I agree with your article.

    Editor’s response: Thanks for this! I did note that Carsada does not use hormones. (Perhaps you missed this.)

    As for antibiotics contaminating milk, this depends on how conscientiously and thoroughly the testing is done. Some antibiotics stay in the cow’s system longer than others—tetracyclines, for instance.

    A downside to antibiotic use in cattle, as with humans, is that antibiotics are notorious for creating resistant bacteria, thus making antibiotics less and less effective, resulting in higher antibiotic dosing and the invention of new ones, a boon to Big Pharma. It becomes an endless battle between mutating bacteria and Pharma, all the while breeding more and more lethal bacteria. At the end of the day, the bacteria will win this Darwinian battle.

    The best strategy, of course, is to let Mother Nature take its course and allow cows to become naturally immune to diseases. (The same is true with humans.) But this doesn’t work when one is running a commercial dairy farm.

  5. Well done Calvin—an extremely informative and well-researched article. Like so much of NYS’s misguided renewable energy policies, the purported “fix” creates more harm than good.

    Sickens me to know methane digesters will foster cruel, sordid and inhumane CAFOs.

  6. amber lindsey

    While most people are completely unaware of the horrors of massive factory farms, you have taken the time and expertise to address it. We pass one of these massive factory farms outside of Malone on our way to Plattsburgh. It is sad to see and know of the long-term devastation that is occurring right under our noses.

    Kudos to you for your investigating and exposing the lies that build this (shitty) empire of destruction. Please continue in your efforts to educate the public on the long-term impacts involved in factory farming and methane digesters.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Editor’s reply: Heart-breaking and enraging. How did this come to pass? I mean, CAFOs. (Tragically, I know the answer.) America is run by corporate outlaws—outlaws to the universe.

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1 “The misbegotten promise of anaerobic digesters,” The Counter (Dec. 3, 2019)