Impacted Communities and Enviro Advocates React to New Report Showing Cryptomining’s Massive Water Consumption
November 30, 2023
US Bitcoin mining consumes as much water as 300,000 households or Washington, D.C.
© Aaron M. Sprecher / Greenpeac
Washington, DC (November 30, 2023) – 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 Bitcoin. Published by Alex de Vries in the peer-reviewed Cell Reports Sustainability journal, the report is the first comprehensive estimate of total water consumption in the global Bitcoinindustry.de Vries joined national environmental advocates and local community members from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky to address the concerning impact of nearby Bitcoin mining operations on water supplies and community health. Bitcoin 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 supplies if it continues to operate without constraints, especially in countries that are already battling water scarcity, including the United States.
Not only are Bitcoin mining 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.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining is an energy-intensive process that requires a massive fleet of single-purpose machines to operate around the clock in a race to guess numbers. 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.
Alex deVries, the paper’s author and a Ph.D. student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam said, “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) 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.”
Erik Kojola, Greenpeace USA Senior Researcher said, “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.”
Mandy DeRoche, Deputy Managing Attorney at Earthjustice said, “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.”
Abi Buddington, member of Seneca Lake Guardian and Secretary of the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes said, “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.”
Jackie Sawicky of the Texas Coalition Against Cryptomining said,“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.”
Greenpeace USA is part of a global network of independent campaigning organizations that use peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace USA is committed to transforming the country’s unjust social, environmental, and economic systems from the ground up to address the climate crisis, advance racial justice, and build an economy that puts people first. Learn more at www.greenpeace.org/usa.