Crypto mining raises concerns and questions


(WTAJ) — Cryptocurrencies have taken the world by storm over the past decade, from bitcoin to dogecoin, cryptocurrencies may be here to stay.

As the popularity and demand for digital currency grows, more mining data centers have popped up across the country, including one in central Pennsylvania. It is located in the Beccaria Township of Clearfield County.

Coal mining has been a historical aspect of central Pennsylvania. Similar to the gold rush of 1848, the new age of computers and technology, solving computational puzzles to generate cryptocurrency could be the gold rush of this generation, without those analysis equipment.

On January 3, 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first batch of the popular bitcoin cryptocurrency (with the “Genesis Block”) using the CPU chip of his personal computer. In the early days of Bitcoin, mining was less difficult as most miners could use graphics cards on a PC.

FAST FORWARD:

In Beccaria Township, a private corporation called Big Dog Energy LLC has set up shop on a natural gas well pad, where it operates 30 natural gas generators, including 29 Mesa natural gas generators and one Jenbacher natural gas generator.

“They set up big data centers next to the generators,” said Akhil Kumar, a Pennsylvania State University professor who researches blockchain technology. “These computer programs consume a lot of energy. They are very complex. And they consume an enormous amount of energy.”

Documents WTAJ received show that on January 7, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed a notice of violations against the LLC, stating that it had installed and been operating those generators without DEP authorization.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

The practice of setting up generators to mine cryptocurrency can be found across the United States as more and more people try to get into what some are calling the future of currency.

“Currently the value of a bitcoin in the market is about 40,000 dollars. And if you mine a block, you get 6.25 bitcoins, Kumar said.

With prices of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin hitting highs of $70,000 in 2021, while cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin crashed after Elon Musk appeared on SNL the same year, being able to mine these digital currencies could be a great investment. In states like Oregon and Washington state, these types of data centers operate almost 24/7. But Kumar adds that not everything is green in the mining business, there is also an environmental downside to this.

“It has a knock-on effect everywhere.”

PROBLEMS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

For those who live near the plant on Dillon Road, the sound of the generators has been a serious disruption to their lives.

Some residents of the small town of about 1,500 people spoke off-camera to express their concerns, which included the noise. Many of them said they can hear the generators running throughout the night, in some cases the noise is so loud that it keeps them awake. A nearby resident added that he has kept him up until 4 am several nights. Wildlife residing in the Clearfield County Wooded Community has also been impacted by this operation. Nearby residents tell WTAJ that when Big Dog Energy LCC’s data center is up and running, their chances of seeing deer or other wildlife in the area are slim.

Some in the area fear that this practice could damage the value of their land, as it is an area that has been financially devastated in recent decades.

The wildlife that resides in Clearfield County’s wooded community has also been affected by this operation, nearby residents tell WTAJ that when Big Dog Energy LCC’s data center is up and running, their chances of seeing deer or other wildlife in the area are rare.

“At a time when there is so much concern about global warming and sustainability etc. To a certain extent, it could be argued that this is a useless activity,” Kumar said.

Professor Kumar believes that over the next two decades, more data centers like Big Dog Energy will continue to appear around the world, as the lucrative business continues to become more mainstream. He said that this possibility is terrifying, since he fears that the environmental impact it may have on communities like the municipality of Beccaria will be reproduced throughout the world.

“We are consuming huge amounts of electrical power, by some estimates the numbers are as high as 91 terawatts of electricity per year.”

As a pop culture reference, Doc Brown could power the 1.21-gigawatt DeLorean time machine more than 70,000 times with the electrical energy used by this local mining company.

Register to the WTAJ Newsletter for the latest local news, weather, and community events that matter to you.