Public Meetings:

The Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing on the topic of cryptocurrency mining on June 14, 2018. Click here for a video recording of the hearing.

Materials from the June 14 hearing: Packet for Cryptocurrency Mining Hearing 6-14-18

The hearing will be continued on Thursday, August 9, 2018 at 2:00 pm in Room 151 of the County Courthouse Annex, 200 W. Broadway, Missoula.

There will be an opportunity for public comment at the August 9 hearing, and comments are also welcome at any time through our online form.

Comments received are posted here.


BACKGROUND

What is Cryptocurrency Mining?

A cryptocurrency is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses cryptography (the computerized encoding and decoding of information) to secure its transactions. The control of cryptocurrencies is decentralized, in contrast to centralized banking systems, and works through a public transaction ledger called a blockchain. Cryptocurrency “mining” is the process of validating cryptocurrency transactions (adding blocks of transactions to the blockchain), for which miners are rewarded with new cryptocurrency. Mining is carried out using high-powered computers that compete to be the first to solve complex mathematical puzzles. Most but not all cryptocurrencies involve mining.

Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency, was created in 2009. More than a thousand other cryptocurrencies have been created since then, but Bitcoin remains the most widely used.

To control the supply of Bitcoin, the system is set up such that a cryptographic puzzle is solved and a new block of transactions added to the blockchain approximately every 10 minutes. This means that as more miners join the system, the puzzles get increasingly difficult and require more and more computing power (and therefore more and more electricity) to solve. As a result, the energy consumption of the Bitcoin system is increasing rapidly. The amount of electricity consumed by Bitcoin worldwide could power more than 6 million U.S. households, and has increased by a factor of five in the past year alone.

Cryptocurrency Mining in Missoula County

Missoula County is an attractive place for locating cryptocurrency mining operations due to the region’s low electricity rates and cool weather which helps to keep equipment from overheating. Electric utilities that operate in Missoula County report receiving large numbers of inquiries from cryptocurrency mining firms. Two commercial-scale cryptocurrency mining facilities are currently operating in the county, as well as an unknown number of small home-based cryptocurrency mining operations.

Missoula County is concerned about the emergency situation created by the current and potential adverse impacts of cryptocurrency mining on the public health and safety of its residents and is requesting public input on this topic.

Current and potential impacts of cryptocurrency mining operations in Missoula County include:

  1. NOISE

    Cooling equipment at cryptocurrency mining facilities has the potential to create noise pollution that negatively impacts nearby residents, businesses, and wildlife, and such impacts have already been reported in the county. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, "Studies have shown that there are direct links between noise and health. Problems related to noise include stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity."

  2. GREENHOUSE GASES

    The large and increasing energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining operations results in increased greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The Montana Climate Assessment determined that impacts of climate change in Northwest Montana, including Missoula County, will include reduced snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt, and more frequent and intense droughts and wildfires, and that these impacts will be more severe if global greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced sharply in the near future. Missoula County is already suffering the impacts of climate change especially in the form of more frequent and intense wildfires and wildfire smoke. Objective 4.1 of Missoula County’s 2016 Growth Policy is “Reduce Missoula County’s contribution to climate change.”

  3. ELECTRICAL SYSTEM RELIABILITY AND SAFETY

    The rapid growth in electricity demand resulting from the construction of cryptocurrency mining operations in the county has the potential to pose a reliability and safety risk to local electric distribution systems, and to impact electric rates for other utility customers.

  4. FIRE

    The use of specialized computer hardware for cryptocurrency mining in buildings, houses and facilities where the electrical infrastructure is not designed for its high energy loads, and that are not in compliance with applicable building codes, may create a fire safety hazard. There have been news reports of fires caused by cryptocurrency mining operations in Washington State and elsewhere.

  5. E-WASTE
    Electronic waste from cryptocurrency mining operations contains heavy metals and carcinogens that have the potential to damage human health, water quality, and air quality if not handled correctly.


Links and Resources

Several other local governments in the U.S. have placed temporary restrictions on cryptocurrency mining operations. They include:

In addition, a number of electric utilities have imposed moratoriums or restrictions on cryptocurrency mining, including:

 

CRYPTOCURRENCY: A SAMPLING OF NEWS ARTICLES

To provide a better understanding of this new and emerging topic, we have compiled a sampling of news articles to inform the public about local, regional, and international press coverage. Explore these links to learn more about issues related to cryptocurrency mining. (updated 5/24/18)

Press Coverage of Cryptocurrency Mining in Montana

The Bitcoin Barons: How a marketer and a money launderer sold Missoula on digital gold (Missoula Independent, 1/25/18)

Why the Bitcoin gold rush is moving to Montana (Inc., 1/26/18)

Bonner Bitcoin data center noise a continuing concern (Missoulian, 2/3/18)

CryptoWatt Bitcoin mining operation up and running south of Butte (Montana Standard, 3/16/18)

Bitcoin under the Big Sky (Flathead Beacon, 3/21/18)

Mining electricity: Montana bitcoin miners footing big bills (Missoulian, 3/26/18)

Bonner property owners make $135K TIF request to quiet bitcoin noise (Missoula Independent, 5/22/18)

After heated meeting, development board denies TIF funding to reduce Bonner bitcoin noise (Missoulian, 5/24/18)

Press Coverage of Cryptocurrency Mining in the U.S. and Canada

Bitcoin miners are flocking to Oregon for cheap electricity. Should we give them a boost? (Willamette Week, 2/21/18)

The rise of Bitcoin factories: Mining for the masses (Wall Street Journal, 2/21/18)

This is what happens when Bitcoin miners take over your town (Politico Magazine, March/April 2018)

Small towns try to tame the Bitcoin boom (CityLab, 3/27/18)

Hydro-Quebec strikes measured approach to Bitcoin mining (Forbes, 3/28/18)

Washington cities, counties dial back Bitcoin enthusiasm (Government Technology, 3/29/18)

Tiny towns, small states bet on Bitcoin even as some shun its miners (Pew Trusts, 4/6/18)

Washington utility boosts security after Bitcoin mining moratorium (Government Technology, 5/3/18)

Washington utility will uphold its cryptocurrency mining moratorium (Government Technology, 5/15/18)

Press Coverage of Fires at Cryptocurrency Mining Facilities

This is what happens when Bitcoin miners take over your town (Politico Magazine, March/April 2018)

Illegal bitcoin mining thought to be behind blaze that engulfed 3 buildings in Turkey’s Kocaeli province (Daily Sabah, 4/16/18)

This is what happens when a Bitcoin mine burns down (Popular Mechanics, 11/10/14)

Bitcoin mining believed to be behind huge fire in block of flats (Metro, 2/9/18)

Other Resources

Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index (Digiconomist)
The Essence of how Bitcoin works (non-technical) (YouTube video)