Impacted Communities and Enviro Advocates React to New Report Showing Cryptomining's Massive Water Pollution

A single Bitcoin transaction could use as much water as a backyard swimming pool; US Bitcoin mining consumes as much water as 300,000 households or Washington, D.C.

NEW YORK, NY (11/30/2023) (readMedia)-- On Thursday, environmental advocates from across the country held a press conference following a groundbreaking report outlining the astounding volume of water used to mine cryptocurrency. Conducted by Alex de Vries in the Cell Reports Sustainability journal, the report is the first comprehensive estimate of total water consumption in the global crypto industry ever published. Earthjustice and de Vries joined national environmental advocates and local community members from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky to address the concerning impact of nearby cryptomining operations on water supplies and community health. Cryptocurrency mining's significant water usage poses a pressing concern amid the global water crisis, with potential for even faster growth in water demand. The report warns that the sheer scale of Bitcoin mining's water usage could impact drinking water if it continues to operate without constraints, especially in countries that are already battling water scarcity, including the United States.

Not only are cryptomining plants using massive amounts of water to operate, they also often discharge the water back into local water supplies or wastewater treatment facilities. This thermal pollution endangers health and wildlife habitability, including but not limited to potential harmful algal blooms, fish deaths, biodiversity loss and migration, oxygen depletion, direct thermal shock, and changes in dissolved oxygen.

Watch the virtual press conference here.

Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining is an energy-intensive process that requires thousands of machines whirring 24/7 to solve complex equations. During the same process, a large amount of water is used to cool the computers at large data centers. In addition to cooling computers, coal and gas-fired power plants that generate electricity to power the mining must also use water to manage the temperature.

The recent report found the following:

  • In 2021, Bitcoin mining consumed over 1,600 gigaliters (GL) of water worldwide
  • In the United States, Bitcoin mining consumes about 93 GL to 120 GL of water every year, equivalent to the average water consumption of 300,000 U.S. households or a city like Washington, D.C.
  • Each transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain uses 16,000 liters of water on average, about 6.2 million times more than a credit card swipe, or enough to fill a backyard swimming pool.
  • The water footprint of Bitcoin in 2021 significantly increased by 166% compared with 2020, from 591.2 to 1,573.7 GL, and it is only expected to increase to 2,300 GL in 2023.

"Bitcoin is now responsible for consuming more water than the entire traditional financial system (bank notes + bank branches + ATMs + cashless transactions) combined. On average a backyard swimming pool worth of fresh water (over 16000 liters) literally goes up in smoke for every single transaction processed on the Bitcoin blockchain. This is about 6.2 million times more than the amount of water consumed for a regular credit card swipe. Many parts of the world are experiencing droughts, and fresh water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. If we continue to use this valuable resource for making useless computations, I think that reality is really painful,"said Alex de Vries, the paper's author and a Ph.D. student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

"For decades, fossil fuel power plants have been significant sources of water pollution, and energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining only prolongs this pollution. Examples like the Fortistar gas plant in North Tonawanda, New York, the Stronghold waste coal plants in Pennsylvania, and the Merom coal plant in Indiana all demonstrate the urgent need for regulatory oversight to mitigate environmental harms caused by these operations and to protect nearby communities," said Mandy DeRoche, Deputy Managing Attorney at Earthjustice.

"The Finger Lakes region, my home, faces peril from the escalating cryptomining industry, exemplified by the Greenidge Generation plant situated a mile from my property since 2020. With its massive water withdrawals from Seneca Lake and discharge into Keuka Lake Outlet, their extensive pollution, including harmful elements like arsenic and magnesium, imperils our precious ecosystem. As local New Yorkers devoted to safeguarding our natural heritage, we demand accountability for the environmental havoc caused by this industry. Seneca Lake's splendor, and its surrounding community, deserve greater protection and respect," said Abi Buddington, member of Seneca Lake Guardian and Secretary of the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes.

"Navarro County in particular, and Texas in general have serious drought issues. In the era of climate change and worsening drought, we should be exceedingly discerning with every drop of water we use. We have real industries that produce real products here and the Riot Platforms bitcoin "mine" will use more water per day than all of them. For what? To guess and throw away numbers in a digital lottery that most Texans want nothing to do with, said Jackie Sawicky of the Texas Coalition Against Cryptomining.

"This groundbreaking report underscores the widespread environmental impacts of Bitcoin mining. Bitcoin mining's alarming water consumption is a stark reminder that the unbridled growth of this industry poses a direct threat to global water resources and necessitates immediate action. Furthermore, the disheartening contradiction of financial institutions, including BlackRock, Chase, Fidelity, and others, investing in Bitcoin mining despite their professed ESG goals raises serious concerns. The finance industry needs to accelerate action to address the environmental damage from its investment decisions – and it can start by engaging with us to clean up Bitcoin by transitioning away from the energy-intensive Proof-of-Work system," said Erik Kojola, Greenpeace USA Senior Researcher.

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