Angry Texans fight Bitcoin mine’s 80,000 noisy machines in test for industry

Angry Texans fight Bitcoin mine’s 80,000 noisy machines in test for industry
Granbury resident and nurse Cheryl Shadden says the noise from a nearby Bitcoin mining facility is causing health problems. Credit: Andrés Tapia
  • Granbury residents are fed up living next to a Marathon Bitcoin mining plant that sounds like a busy motorway.
  • Locals say the mine’s soaring decibel levels are causing health problems.
  • Miner’s noise pollution could become a major challenge for the industry as Wall Street ETFs stoke demand for Bitcoin.

When Cheryl Shadden invited her family from Washington state to visit her home in Texas she knew there were going to be issues.

The Bitcoin mining operation a quarter mile from her property generates a noise like the inside of a wind tunnel.

And it never stops.

“They went, ‘Oh my god, what is this? This is horrible,’” Shadden told DL News. “I knew they were going to say something.”

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For more than a year, a Bitcoin mining facility owned by Marathon Digital Holdings has been minting the cryptocurrency day and night with about 80,000 fan-cooled computers.

The sound has been antagonising the folks in Granbury, a town not far from Fort Worth.

Noise this morning before the sun came up.

Posted by Bitcoin Noise Hood County on Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Now, Shadden and her fellow residents are becoming increasingly alarmed that the din is causing a slew of health issues.

“I have headaches now, and the vertigo is worse,” neighbour Geraldine Lathers told DL News. “You can’t get relief. If I move wrong, I’m dizzy.”

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Residents have watched in amazement as rabbits, birds, and other wildlife have fled the area to escape the noise.

But, she says, before pausing to add: “There sure are a lot of vultures.”

Marathon scrambling

Marathon, a publicly traded Bitcoin mining company valued at $6 billion, took ownership of the facility in January. The firm is now scrambling to get a handle on the problem.

“There are people who are upset by this, and we need to go fix it,” Charlie Schumacher, Marathon’s spokesperson, told DL News.

He also shared his doubts.

“I’m not aware of anyone ever having medical issues from a Bitcoin mining site,” he said. “If that’s the case, I’d love to see information on it. It’s super important for us to know.”

Cheryl Shadden in front of the Marathon Bitcoin mine.

Bitcoin mining has long drawn fire from environmentalists for using so much electricity generated by fossil fuels. US Bitcoin miners produced as much carbon pollution as 3.5 million gasoline-powered cars, The New York Times reported in April.

Now, the industry is under pressure to address another mounting problem — noise pollution. Residents in North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, as well as in Canada and Norway, have complained about noisy Bitcoin mines. In Texas, the problem is escalating into a major headache for the industry.

And that’s striking, given that residents of the Lone Star State usually have no problem with all manner of industrial activity, from oil drilling to wind farms to fracking shale.

‘People let us know how it’s impacting their life, with migraines, nosebleeds, vertigo, hearing loss, and seizures.’

—  Nannette Samuelson, Hood County commissioner

With Bitcoin more than doubling in value in the last 12 months, soaring demand may drive an expansion of mining operations.

Lawmakers in Georgia and Kentucky have offered mining companies financial incentives to set up shop in their states. Ercot, Texas’ power grid operator, offers mining firms energy credits.

If all that wasn’t enough, Bitcoin’s next halving is scheduled for April. This automated process will cut the number of coins provided as a reward to miners by half, to 3.125. Mining companies are expected to ratchet up their computing power to compete.

And that means even more noise.

Until now, mitigating the clangour from whirring computer boxes has not been a priority, said Zack Voell, a mining researcher. It’s hard enough to manage delicate server farms and the fluctuations of a commodity that may be even more volatile than crypto — electricity.

“Mining is a very difficult industry,” Voell told DL News. “So it’s like: ‘Oh, now I’m supposed to worry about noise too?’ That’s like the last thing they’ll think about.”

Not so, said Taras Kulyk, CEO of SunnySide Digital, a mining hardware provider. “If you’re a credible operation, of course you care about noise mitigation,” he told DL News.

Seizure medicine

Shadden agrees.

“This is the time. We have to set a precedent here in Texas because this is going to get nothing but worse,” she said.

Nannette Samuelson, a county commissioner in Hood County, where Granbury is located, told DL News that she’s been fielding noise complaints for more than a year.

“People let us know how it’s impacting their life, with migraines, nosebleeds, vertigo, hearing loss, and seizures,” Samuelson said. “Their animals are on seizure medicine.”

Daniel Rohde, who lives about half a mile away from the mining facility, said that the “constant rumble” is beginning to affect his livestock. “It’s starting to spook them out pretty good,” he said.

US Bitcoin Corp/Hut 8’s Bitcoin mining wall in Granbury, Texas. Source: Hood County News.

Shadden, a nurse anaesthetist, is as loquacious as she is frustrated.

Her determination to drum up action within the community has even earned her a warning from the constable telling her to take it down a notch.

She seems unimpressed. “Most people that know me, if you tell me to tone it down, that’s not gonna happen,” she said. “I’m gaining some toeholds with this problem, and this community needs help.”

90 decibels

Shadden has been taking sound readings of the Granbury facility since May 2022. She says the thrum has gotten worse in the last six months.

She shared readings with DL News taken from her property showing the sound as high as 90 decibels on some occasions, about as loud as a motorcycle engine seven metres away.

Shadden says she has taken readings for local authorities, who have asked Marathon to address the problem.

Constable John Shirley told DL News that he issued four citations on the facility two weeks ago and an additional four since then.

“Every day that I find probable cause to believe that they’re out of compliance with the law, I issue a citation,” he said.

Marathon declined to comment on the citations, but has begun making efforts to address the problem.

Jayson Browder, the firm’s head of policy, told DL News that Marathon conducted a sound study and concluded that it is in compliance with Texas state law.

In a two-page document that Marathon shared with the Granbury community, seen by DL News, the mining firm said it anticipated adding as many as 30 new jobs and bringing in $2 million in annual tax contributions.

Welcome to Granbury, Texas

Seated on the Brazos River some 40 miles from Fort Worth, Granbury was named the Best Historic Small Town in America three years in a row by USA Today.

The quaint locale of 11,000 has also made headlines for executing one of the most sweeping book bans in the US, targeting themes of gender, sexuality, and race. In 2020, it voted for Donald Trump by a whopping 81%.

It was also home to Stewart Rhodes, founder of far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, who last year began serving an 18-year prison sentence for his role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol.

Constable Shirley confirmed to DL News that he was also once a member of the Oath Keepers. He said he left the group before the attack on the US capitol building.

The Granbury mining facility covers an area roughly the size of a dozen football fields. It has bounced between different operators over the last couple of years.

‘If we’re within legal limits, how much of a problem is this really?’

—  Charlie Schumacher, Marathon

The facility has been owned and operated by a series of owners since it went online in 2022. That November, Generate Capital, a San Francisco investment firm, bought the facility and tapped a firm called Hut 8 to manage day-to-day operations.

The solution: a 24-foot high sound barrier — a giant metal wall filled with insulation — around the site. Completed late last year, the wall covers just one side of the mine, with the other portions protected by a chain-link fence, according to the Hood County News.

And it doesn’t work, residents say.

“I asked them, ‘Did you get a performance guarantee from the people that built this wall?’” said Commissioner Samuelson. “Because if you did, you need to go back to them and say it didn’t work because people are complaining more now than they were before the wall.”

A “Bitcoin Noise Hood” sign outside of Cheryl Shadden’s property. Source: ABC News.

Erin Dermer, a Hut 8 spokesperson, told DL News the firm had “facilitated conversations and obtained third-party recommendations to address the noise concerns.”

Ultimately, it was Generate Capital that gave the nod to build the wall, she said, and it was Hut 8 that “oversaw its construction.”

Generate Capital didn’t respond to requests for comment.

White noise machines

In the meantime, residents are turning to unusual methods to cope with the noise.

Some are turning to so-called white noise machines, reported Hood County News, a local newspaper. These generate sounds like flowing water or blowing wind and are meant to mask less serene noises like barking dogs or, in this case, a Bitcoin mine.

Others are opting for pharmaceutical drugs. Lathers told DL News that she takes “motion sickness medicine like candy.”

“These people are miserable. One little lady I was talking to a couple of days ago, she’s physically ill,” said Shadden. “Everybody in her home is physically ill, and her hair’s falling out.”

‘It speaks volumes that they didn’t come today.’

—  Hood County resident

Even though Marathon has been cited by the county, the company insists it is following the law.

“There’s nothing that I have been told that indicates that what we’re doing is illegal or that we’re violating sound ordinance laws,” Schumacher told DL News.

“If we’re within legal limits, how much of a problem is this really?”

Immersion technology

Even so, the company is evaluating other ways to reduce the sounds from the facility, including reconfiguring the containers that contain the mining rigs and perhaps moving some to different sites.

Schumacher said Marathon might even look into immersion technology, which would entail submerging the mining rigs in what’s called dielectric oil to keep them from overheating.

This would allow Marathon to completely dispense with the noisy fans used to cool down the machines in Granbury.

The firm has already deployed a similar set-up in Abu Dhabi in an operation that cost $406 million.

He said he couldn’t estimate the cost of such a modification in Granbury.

The company is also considering the appointment of a community representative to deal directly with residents.

But on February 13, Marathon didn’t send a representative to a meeting of the Hood County Commissioners that included a hearing on the issue.

“It speaks volumes that they didn’t come today,” said an attendee.

Some residents said they wanted the facility shut down until the noise was squelched. One attendee told the audience that the county needed to “keep us little guys in mind,” which was met with applause.

While Marathon weighs precisely how to tackle the problem, one thing is clear.

“People want the sound to go away,” Samuelson said. “They want their quality of life returned.”

Liam Kelly is DL News’ Berlin correspondent. Tom Carreras is a markets correspondent at DL News. Contact them at liam@dlnews.com and tcarreras@dlnews.com.

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