Jan 27, 2023 - Economy

Crypto mining advocate sees green business in abandoned gas wells

Photo illustration of Satoshi Action Fund CEO Dennis Porter beside a data center filled with cryptocurrency mining

Dennis Porter, of Satoshi Action Fund. Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new advocate for bitcoin miners, Satoshi Action Fund, believes that securing the oldest cryptocurrency could be an effective way to finance a longstanding environmental problem in the United States: orphaned gas wells.

Why it matters: The Environmental Defense Fund released a map in 2021 of 81,000 wells with no owner of record. While there are federal funds available to aid in sealing these wells, it's still a daunting task.

  • Dennis Porter, founder of the organization, is pushing policy for bitcoin miners to step in, use the last remaining gas to mine, and then seal the well and move on.

Driving the news: On Wednesday, the organization made its first presentation in the halls of the U.S. Congress, in a Senate briefing room, to 30 to 40 people from around 10 congressional offices.

  • In operation since June 2022, the nascent group has made presentations to state legislators across the country.

What they're saying: Porter's message to legislators was: "Bitcoin mining is a business that doubles as a piece of grid infrastructure," he said in an interview. "It is particularly good at reducing methane emissions and enhancing green energy projects."

In the weeds: The EPA has researched the impact of abandoned oil and gas wells in the U.S. extensively, and its estimates indicate they account for about 8.7% of the methane released here.

  • Methane is many, many times worse from a climate change perspective than carbon dioxide (CO2), so every kiloton of methane that isn't emitted goes a long way.
  • Research shows that federal funding, as is, likely won't be enough to plug all the leaking wells, so any mechanism that would make it go further could be beneficial.
  • In Porter's vision, the policy would protect miners who take responsibility for a well, let them use the mine with whatever fuel they can still access, and then appropriately cap it and seal it so any remaining gas stays underground.

Of note: The mining operations really would come to the wellhead.

  • Small bitcoin mining operations can be loaded into a mobile shipping container easily, as is already done with flared natural gas at some active wells.

What's next: Satoshi Action Fund has been presenting model legislation around the country to advance the idea of recruiting bitcoin miners to cap wells.

  • Taking over a well site raises complex liability issues, and that's why Porter is pushing for state legislation to make miners' risks more predictable.
  • "It is a win-win-win for everybody," he says. "It's an inarguable win for the environment. It's an inarguable win for the economy. And it's an inarguable win for those states that don't have to spend taxpayer dollars to plug these abandoned oil and gas wells."

What we're watching: The group is working across the country, but it has seen the most traction in Missouri and Mississippi.

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