Public Lab Research note


Bitcoin Mining in Upstate NY

by marinaraHQ | March 10, 2022 19:18 10 Mar 19:18 | #30115 | #30115

Greenidge Generation LLC is one example of a decommissioned industrial plant that has been revitalized into one of the largest cryptocurrency mines in the country. Bitcoin mining facilities devote huge quantities of computational power to solving cryptographic problems, resulting in insane energy grid demands. Old power plants industrial regions (like those found in finger lakes region New York) are hot real estate for bitcoin mining predominately due to their river/lakeside locations and existing facility infrastructure that cool the operating computer systems.

"Like all thermoelectric power plants, Greenidge uses steam to spin the turbines that produce electricity, but the steam has to be condensed back to water by exchanging heat with the fresh water before it can be reused. Once-through cooling systems like this --- where water is used once and then expelled at a higher temperature --- require vast amounts of water, with consequences for both wildlife and water quality. Greenidge can draw up to 139 million gallons of fresh water per day to cool the plant. " (McKenzie, 2021)

There has been a surge of regional and state activist attention and support:

This attention and pressure has not seemed to rush NY DEC. A decision on whether or not to grant Greenidge their Title IV (acid rain) and Title V (greenhouse gas) air permits still has yet to be made (almost 6 months after the October public hearings). Their new decision deadline is March 30th (unsure as of yet if that deadline will be adhered to). The Greenidge plant currently resides next door to a state superfund remediation site.

This 21st century mining (though seemingly intangible) has very material consequences. How can the local Finger Lake community manage the monitoring of bitcoin mining facilities and their environmental impact (both present and potential future plants)? What information is needed to sway, oppose or defend the permit decision?

Related works:


7 Comments

Looks like Harmful Algae Blooms are top of the list of direct threat to public health posed by the release of hot water into Lake Seneca.

Summarizing from the article you posted from a colleague of NYC's civic tech scene writ large, Jessica McKenzie in Grist: https://grist.org/technology/bitcoin-greenidge-seneca-lake-cryptocurrency/

  • Warming water has been shown to cause Harmful Algal Blooms in another of the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain.
  • Harmful Algal Blooms are damaging to human consumption such as by the people who draw their drinking water directly from this lake.
  • Harmful Algal Blooms cannot be removed by boiling, chemical disinfection, or water filtration.

Maybe worth glancing at prior work on algae blooms here: https://publiclab.org/tag/algae

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For detecting temperature change in waterbodies, see:

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Believe it or not, during the seaon, this is on the weather segment of the local news. The local water intakes (Cleveland) are often threatened by the algea blooms in lake Erie from the Toledo area. So in the season, discussion of algae blooms is often in the news. That's along with satellite images, forecast growth, when the water might need to be shut down, etc. You get the idea. That's for at least the last few years. Sorry, don't know what satellite the tv stations use.

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I got in touch with the author of the Grist article as we know each other from civic tech days in NYC. She stated that she has continuing interest in covering this story, so maybe we can uncover something for her to write about.

I think it would be great- really excited to work with you this coming weekend! I read over the materials you posted, I think the fishing bobs would be a great way of capturing the micro-hotspots, especially with lake current changes (more so than relying on monthly Landsat). Also trying to figure out how to potentially auto-capture images of the fish that experience "sudden death" from these lake hotspots (I know... kinda morbid, but potentially potent for Grist and other folks making case to DEC).


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The last heard, Ohio decided it was excessive levels of fertilizers that caused the problem. So, the solution was to limit when fertilizers could be applied. Not sure that is the correct solution to Ohio's problem.

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