Chevron USA Inc. announced Tuesday it has partnered with a Visalia-based company to help fund up to 18 dairy "digesters" that would harvest methane from cow manure in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

The oil giant, under its deal with California Bioenergy LLC, also agreed to help find a market for the resulting biomethane, a renewable-energy greenhouse gas 84 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

Part of the idea behind the two companies' joint investment in a holding company named CalBioGas LLC is to sell the gas as a fuel for trucks, buses and other heavy-duty equipment.

The partnership will help Chevron comply with California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which creates financial incentives for industry to switch from gasoline, which is considered carbon intense, to other fuels such as biomethane, which is renewable and burns relatively cleanly.

California has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to assist in the development of Central Valley dairy digesters, several of which exist or are in development on Bakersfield's periphery.

State officials have expressed worries that not enough digester projects are under way to help them meet a 2030 legislative deadline for lowering California's methane emissions to 40 percent below 2013 levels. They are also concerned that existing digester operations so far have not proved financially viable without state price supports and other public subsidies.

Environmental justice groups complained recently that digester projects promote dairy growth and consolidation, potentially threatening local air and groundwater quality, without providing much local benefit. They also questioned why the state has hesitated to disclose its full involvement in such projects, and why state financial support is going to only a few companies, such as CalBio.

Chevron said it was proud to work on projects that would lower its carbon footprint and help establish biomethane's financial viability.

"CalBioGas represents exactly the sort of targeted investment we will make to achieve LCFS compliance and also test the viability of alternate fuel sources," Mike Vomund, Chevron's vice president for Chevron Americas Products - West, said in the release. "As a proud California company, we are pleased that local communities in the state will benefit from this investment and we look forward to the opportunities ahead with CalBioGas."

The San Ramon-based oil company declined to state how much money it would contribute to the partnership.

CalBio is working with dozens of Central Valley dairies, some of them with several thousand milk cows each, to build and connect digesters that can inject utility-grade methane into natural gas pipelines. The company also has contracts with electric utilities to combust biomethane and sell it onto the power grid as renewable power.

"These projects bring so many win-wins that would not be possible without our farmers' and Chevrons' support," CalBio CEO N. Ross Buckenham said in Tuesday's release.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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