Inside the Evergreen State’s Crypto Mining Boom

The differences between traditional mining and crypto mining might seem vast. After all, what do dust-covered workers and mineral-stripped landscapes have to do with the humming server farms of the modern cryptocurrency mine?

Filmmaker Alex Tyson, who worked on the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, was planning to make a film about the conflict minerals in cell phones when he first started to see the connections between the two endeavors. “I do see them as ’49ers,” says Tyson, of those rushing to set up cryptocurrency mining operations. “I see them as speculating; I see them as people who are investing in, basically, high-tech shovels to amass as much resources as possible.”

He wanted to explore the idea further. So, amid soaring crypto prices this spring, Tyson headed to Wenatchee, Washington. The images he captured (some of which are featured below) show the impact of a mining boom on a small city. “When energy was that cheap and bitcoin was that high, you were seeing people come in like it was the Wild West,” says Tyson.

While there, he chatted with home rig operators who got into the mining game to provide for their families, and attended a town hall filled with residents concerned that their electricity bills would skyrocket.

He hopes the documentary, called Supply Chain, which explores culture of mining, will help provide viewers with a better sense of what this boom actually looks like. “No one has a visual when they hear the word [blockchain],” says Tyson. “With this film, I’m relating the blockchain to our history with geology, to give place to that infrastructure and to capture it as it’s growing.”

Production on Supply Chain begins soon. Photos and captions by Alex Tyson.

An undisclosed commercial bitcoin mine in East Wenatchee.
Algorithms running 24/7 in shipping containers.
GigaWatt’s Giga Pods are small mining sheds designed for maximum airflow. The computers inside are hosted by GigaWatt but leased or owned by outside parties.
One of many “unauthorized” home-brew mining operations that the Chelan County PUD has asked to shut down. At one point the miners in this garage were netting $1600 a month.
The Rocky Reach Dam is one of three hydroelectric projects operated by the Chelan County PUD. It provides some of the cheapest and most consistent power in America.
Wenatchee residents gather to debate ending a moratorium on new leases for cryptocurrency mining ventures in May 2018. The energy moratorium is still in effect as of September.
Roberto Ocampo Martinez is a Mexican immigrant who manages IT at a large apple packing facility in Wenatchee. He and his family operate three commercial mining operations that produce bitcoin, ether, decred, and graftcoin.
Roberto’s chickens roost on obsolete Antminer S2s. The computers are manufactured by the Chinese firm Bitmain, one of a few bitcoin mining suppliers in the world.
Roberto Ocampo Martinez.
92ºF/33ºC. An exhaust corridor located inside Miners United in Cashmere, Washington.
71ºF/22ºC. Intake side of a bitcoin mining array at Miners United.
Daniel Conover inspects the motherboard of an Antminer S9. The chips inside are configured to mine bitcoin.
Rooftop exhaust of Miners United in Cashmere.