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Bitcoin boom: Montanans turn to a new type of mining

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In the past few years, the popularity of bitcoin has made headlines, and sent businesses and investors into a mad dash to collect cryptocurrency. 

Bitcoin is just one type of cryptocurrency, but it's the most popular and profitable. Currently, one bitcoin is worth about $10,000 USD. But bitcoin isn't something you can hold in your hand. It's a long string of numbers, pulled from raw data using military-grade encryption software, and it's designed to be un-hackable and uncorruptable.

The process of pulling bitcoin numbers from data, which is called "mining," is helping put the Northwestern US on the map of the bitcoin boom.

In Butte, a town founded on metal mining, this new cryptocurrency has people mining for money.

In the late 1800s, the city of Butte boomed from a gold and silver mining camp. For many years, Butte was one of the most prosperous cities in the nation, the Richest Hill on Earth, until mining declined in the 1950s. Now, miners are coming back to the Mining City.

Matt Vincent, chief communications officer for Crypto Watt LLC, is a Butte native and former town Chief Executive. He's excited about what he thinks bitcoin mining has to offer Butte and Anaconda.

"When we get these things up and running, we'll be one of the largest cryptocurrency mining operations in America," he says. "We could be looking at as many as 100 jobs in this area."

Bitcoin mining requires hundreds of computers running constantly, which needs a lot of power and a method of keeping the machines cool. Montana's chilly winters are a benefit.

"You got cheap power, you got low ambient temperatures and you got available power," he says. "These places take a lot of energy."

Vincent says Crypto Watt LLC's main mining operation will be the old MSE technologies building, which is on a massive industrial site on the south end of town. He expects the new center to start operations as soon as late March or early April.

Meanwhile, 115 miles away in Bonner, sits another industrial site that's transforming from 20th century industries to 21st century digital technologies. The old Bonner Millsite is home to the Project Spokane bitcoin farm. Currenlty, thousands of computers are running around the clock, mining bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin mining is posing a different kind of hazard for local residents: noise pollution. At a recent public meeting at Bonner School, residents asked that something be done to counteract the constant buzz of the cooling fans.

"This sound is driving me nuts," commented one person.

Project Spokane representatives say they're working on ways to counteract the noise.

Both Butte and Bonner's industrial histories are closely tied together as well, as new groups hire people to help mine for money. But these days, you don't have to put on a head lamp or use a pick and shovel to mine in the 21st century.