Readers’ opinion: Missoula County must impose moratorium on cryptocurrency mining

Missoula County faces an imminent threat to our future: the reckless industry of cryptocurrency mining. Our county commissioners failed to act quickly and enact a proposed moratorium addressing the energy intensive industry in the county, leaving our community to accept the risks.

In September, the Board of County Commissioners faced concerned citizens, organization representatives, and county officials calling for a one year stop-gap to prohibit new cryptocurrency operations, and the expansion of existing operations for one year. More than 71 individuals left comments, 92 percent of which supported a moratorium. Commissioners did not heed these concerns and instead opted to pursue further research of possible regulations while leaving the industry free to grow without restriction.

Cryptocurrency mining (a process that creates digital currency through the solving of complex algorithms by specialized computers) is a rapidly growing industry that is exorbitantly energy intensive. HyperBlock mine in Bonner, for instance, uses the same amount of energy as one-third of the homes in Missoula, and is projected to grow rapidly. The global industry uses at least 1.3 percent of the United States’ electricity, or twice the amount that Montana consumes each year. For such a quickly growing, energy intensive industry, cryptocurrency mining provides very few jobs and does little to give back to the community.

The cryptocurrency industry finds Montana a desirable location for mining because of the region’s cooler temperatures, lower energy costs, and many abandoned manufacturing buildings with independent electricity grids.  Residents of Bonner protested the local mining operations particularly because of the excessive, high frequency noise caused by the fans needed to cool the massive electronic operation.

Though HyperBlock has addressed the noise concern, noise pollution is but a minor issue compared to the energy consumption, which is anticipated to triple with their planned expansion. Bonner is not the only community at risk if this industry keeps to its projected growth rate. An unregulated, highly consumptive industry such as this only serves to undermine Missoula’s countywide sustainability interests.

The Missoula County Growth Policy, enacted in 2016, aims to “reduce [the county’s] contribution to climate change while promoting resiliency and adapting to its impact on the natural environment and communities.” The global cryptocurrency mining industry has the potential to single-handedly warm the world by two degrees celcius, the threshold at which the IPCC predicts catastrophic climate impacts, in 22 years. HyperBlock receives their energy from hydropower, but this does not make their operations renewable. Their use of hydropower shifts the burden of production for residential energy to coal-fired power plants. Unless the industry’s energy consumption is regulated, Missoula, and our country, will see greater effects of climate change more rapidly. Allowing this industry to continue locally without regulation contradicts the Missoula County Growth Policy.

Currently, Washington and New York have restrictions on the cryptocurrency mining industry, and other states are following suit. Missoula County has the opportunity to become the leading community in Montana to take a stand and create policy and regulations surrounding this controversial industry.

Missoula County commissioners should re-visit and enact the previously proposed temporary moratorium on cryptocurrency mining operations while continuing to research potential commercial energy consumption regulations. Calling for a pause in the rapid growth of cryptocurrency mines would provide the county the opportunity to investigate the best regulatory policy, while minimizing the impacts of new and expanding operations. Given the appeal of this region for cryptocurrency mining operations, Missoula County should take immediate action to support our county’s goals in reducing our carbon footprint.

Erika Berglund, Holly Seymour, Taylor Simpson, and Stephanie Maltarich are Master’s candidates in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana.