Published:  12:07 AM, 17 May 2021

Flared natural gas latest prize in bit coin miners' energy quest

As the value of bit coin soars and concerns rise about the energy-intensive process needed to obtain it, crypto currency entrepreneurs in the United States believe they have found a solution in flared natural gas. Profitably creating, or mining, bit coin and other crypto currencies requires masses of computers dedicated to solving deliberately complicated equations - an endeavor that globally consumes more electricity than entire nations, but for which these start-ups say the jets of flaming gas placed next to oil wells are perfect power sources.

"I think the market is enormous," said Sergii Gerasymovych, CEO of EZ Block chain, which has six different data centers powered off natural gas in the US states of Utah and New Mexico, as well as in Canada.

Across the country, companies like EZ Block chain are setting up shipping containers where racks containing hundreds of computers mine crypto currency, fueled by natural gas from oil wells that otherwise would be burned in the open. Interest in their work has grown over the past year. Bit coin and other crypto currencies like ethereal and doge coin have seen meteoric price spikes since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the global economy on its head and mainstream companies began to embrace the technology.

But a backlash has formed against the digital assets' energy usage, fueled by concerns it relies on carbon-emitting power sources that contribute to climate change. This week, Tesla boss Elon Musk criticized bit coin's power consumption, particularly of energy produced from coal, and said he would no longer accept the crypto currency as payment for his electric cars.

While entrepreneurs in the fledgling industry say using natural gas that is otherwise wasted represents a solution to these concerns, its ability to actually cut emissions remains to be seen, said Tony Scott, managing director of analysis at oil and gas research firm BTU Analytics.

"In the grand scheme of things and relative to other load, yes, it's small," Scott said. "They are creating economic value (but) they're not necessarily significantly changing the emissions profiles."

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