Driven from their home, determined to fight

Proof of problems: Bitcoin mining’s pollution toll on U.S. communities

‘Living near a crypto mine was so stressful, we sold our house and moved’

Cyndie Roberson, co-founder of Cherokee County Citizens Against Crypto Mining

CHEROKEE COUNTY, N.C. – Cyndie Roberson finally had her dream home here. But the arrival of several crypto mines in this small community brought with it blaring high-pitched noise 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and it drove her to leave.

Even when the owner of a nearby bitcoin mine erected a partial wall to tamp down on the constant noise the facility made, the problem remained, says Roberson. “We still had to drive by the eyesore to go everywhere, and it was so stressful we didn’t want to live there.”

Although she was hounded out of North Carolina by the incessant din of crypto mining, Roberson remains fully invested in the local fight against proof of work operations. She’s the co-founder of Cherokee County Citizens Against Crypto Mining, a local group of activists.

The PrimeBlock crypto mine in Murphy, N.C.

he PrimeBlock crypto mine in Murphy, N.C.

Photo credit: Getty Images/Mike Belleme, The Washington Post

Bitcoin mining companies are lured to the southwest corner of the state in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, with promises of low-cost electricity and zoning regulations that make the area favorable to the industry.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition organized by Roberson and others against mines being located in the county. “[O]ur rural and mountainous tranquility has been shattered by the 24/7 deafening noise and vibration of the fans needed to cool the computers/servers,” says the petition, adding that there are unanswered questions about mining’s impacts.

Roberson is also joining calls for Congress to pass legislation that would, at a minimum, identify every crypto mining operation in the U.S. and require each facility to quantify how much electricity it uses and how much bitcoin its proof of work operations earns.

She’s also written to the White House outlining her concerns with bitcoin mining: noise and light pollution, blight near residential neighborhoods, massive electricity consumption, huge amounts of electronic waste and more. These problems mean “adjacent property values commonly decrease, or the owner has a hard time selling their property,” she wrote in a response to a Biden administration call for input.

Roberson managed to find a buyer for what had once been her dream home. Now she lives in Georgia, another state where communities are finding their tranquility upended by crypto mining. 

An ongoing nightmare

California-based PrimeBlock’s bitcoin mine has become a scourge to the residents of the town of Murphy, N.C. The company’s unenclosed bitcoin mining facility is not only an eyesore in this tourism-driven retirement community located in the heart of the largely pristine southern Appalachian wilderness, but its inescapable sound affects people living nearby.

A recent Washington Post investigation measured the facility’s noise for three weeks and found that the racket heard on nearby properties exceeded normal conversation levels 98 percent of the time and 60 decibels more than 30 percent of the time. With bitcoin mining, the deafening hum never stops.

A local outcry began almost immediately after the facility began operating, in September 2021, when neighbors complained of being woken up in the middle of the night by the facility’s din and myriad other sound-related issues.

Less than three months later, the county board of commissioners had received public comments critical of the mine. That month, it also started holding meetings to explore ways to lower the local impact of crypto mining. Shortly afterward, it asked state and federal representatives to either take action or pass legislation empowering the county to take action.

The lawmakers gave these requests the cold shoulder. But roughly one year later, the board of commissioners unanimously passed a resolution calling for legislative action to restrict crypto mining businesses. 

According to PrimeBlock's website, the company “aims to create social good and form bonds within the communities where it operates efficiently and sustainably.”

The company describes its commitment to sustainable operations and economic development: “PrimeBlock strives to be a responsible, ethical company and community member. The Company aims to minimize its environmental impact and generate employment opportunities in the communities where it maintains operations.”

We still had to drive by the eyesore to go everywhere, and it was so stressful we didn’t want to live there.

So far, PrimeBlock does not appear to be meeting its Murphy community relations goals, as it has generated complaints from a local resident annoyed by the facility’s noise.

Company representatives had planned to attend at least one county board of commissioners meeting during the facility’s development phase. But they canceled the appearance after a nearby crypto mine was taken offline when someone shot a service line with a gun.

As to its environmental and sustainability goals, PrimeBlock cites its “strategic commitment” to locating facilities in places like Murphy, that offer low-cost power from the Tennessee Valley Authority. The cheaper power comes at a high price to the climate due to the reliance on coal at a rate that’s 41 percent higher than the national rate.

Only limited details about PrimeBlock’s Cherokee County operations are available because the company is not publicly traded and has limited reporting requirements. But based on the Murphy facility’s design and similarities to the company’s nearby facilities in Tennessee, it generates an estimated 24,711 short tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about 74.6 tons of CO2 per year, or about 74.6 tons of carbon dioxide per bitcoin resulting from its use of coal-intensive electricity.