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The EPA asks a Bitcoin 'mining' operation in Clearfield County for information

In this Feb. 9, 2021, photo, the Bitcoin logo appears on the display screen of a cryptocurrency ATM at a store in Salem, N.H.
Charles Krupa
In this Feb. 9, 2021, photo, the Bitcoin logo appears on the display screen of a cryptocurrency ATM at a store in Salem, N.H.

A natural gas company in Clearfield County that had been "mining" for Bitcoin at several sites has stopped doing so for now, but operations at the site had already led to an information request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Matt Anderson, owner of Big Dog Energy, said in an email that his company began crypto-mining in October 2021 on one site. That grew to three sites.

In January, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection sent Big Dog Energy a notice of violation. A DEP site inspection found Big Dog had installed 30 natural gas powered generators and a gas-producing unit at a site without authorization from the department.

According to a DEP spokesman, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking the lead on assessing the situation. The EPA issued a Clean Air Act Section 114 information request to Big Dog on June 1. A spokesman did not provide details on what type of information was requested.

Anderson said he stopped the crypto-mining operations in June. But, he said in an email, that was “just a business decision, not EPA or DEP related.”

“I can restart them anytime I’d like," he said.

The price of Bitcoin has plunged, after peaking in November 2021.

Along with natural gas sites, at least two Bitcoin mining sites in Pennsylvania use waste coal facilities. The natural gas or waste coal is used to power generators, which in turn power the application-specific integrated circuits or supercomputers that are used to "mine" for Bitcoin.

Rob Altenburg, senior director for energy and climate with PennFuture, an environmental advocacy organization, said in these situations mining for Bitcoin is a new operation and should be treated that way.

“Those wells are permitted as natural gas extraction operations," he said. "Once you start mining Bitcoin, that isn’t a natural gas extraction process. So, in my reading, their existing permits would not apply to that.”

Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU. She was a reporter for nearly 12 years at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, where she earned a number of awards for her coverage of issues including the impact of natural gas development on communities.
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