Dirty Money: Emerging Cryptocurrencies & Morgantown's Secretive 'Science Center'

Project Contributors

Jenna Ablak, India Bender, Olivia Berarducci, Seth Mullins, Evonni Tatum


Our physical world is continually shaped and reshaped by the Internet era's innovations. As anthropologists and responsible citizens, we must continually assess the ways these changes influence, affect, and change the world of stakeholders.

Manifestations of the Digital Era find their way into our mundane, everyday activities, but are not always welcome. Our group explored this sentiment in our research, which stands as an examination of public perception regarding Marion Energy Partners LLC's 'Science Center' proposal. The center itself has been under scrutinizing watch by concerned locals and grassroots organizations.

Issued March 7, 2022, the proposal outlines the intent to commence the hydraulic fracturing process, using pre-existing well pads in Morgantown Industrial Park. Concerned citizens approached Marion Energy Partners (MEP) and West Virginia's Department of Air Quality (WVDAQ) at a public hearing held in January, 2022. Each community member in attendance spoke in opposition to the proposal, citing anticipatory anxieties like ambient air quality, noise, and pollution.

Our research aims to understand the roots of community concern with anticipatory development, especially as it relates to the explosion of Bitcoin extraction, employing ethnographic methods and research as core principles. In short, our work examines the fears, doubts, and anxieties of anticipatory development of emerging industry.

Red pin drop on map indicates location of MEP's 'Science Center'


Part One

Olivia Berarducci and Jenna Ablak devised a structured questionnaire through Google Forms in February. The goal of the questionnaire was to gauge local perceptions and opinion toward MEP's development project. We shared the questionnaire with residents of the area following open, targeted, and convenience sampling methodologies. We began the distribution by printing out 25 documents with a QR code on it. We then took a trip to Westover where we put them on welcome mats, newspaper boxes, and wedged them into local businesses and apartment buildings. We also put it up on the Morgantown library cork board. This yielded little results, so we found Morgantown and Westover community-based Facebook groups where we posted it. We got 15 responses in one day, but after two months and continually reposting the questionnaire, we ended up with 127 responses.

Part Two

India Bender engaged in participant observation through attending a public comment meeting for the Marion Energy Partners proposal, hosted by the West Virginia Department of Air Quality (WVDAQ). In addition, the proposal and other accompanying documents (responses to public comments, final determinations) were analyzed. The documents described permitted air emissions based on federal regulatory standards as well as the specifications of procedure and equipment outlined for the alleged bitcoin processing facility. This information was compared to other facilities with similar proposals, such as the data center in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Public comments were coded into more general environmental and/or health concerns, such as ambient air quality, noise (which does not fall under WVDAQ jurisdiction), and water/soil contamination as a result of residual frack fluid.

Part Three

Seth Mullins accumulated background information on the relationship between cryptocurrency and hydraulic fracturing. This data collection consisted primarily of secondary research, with a collection of both academic and journalistic sources. These were accessed through Google, as well as WVU libraries and offer a variety of opinions and facts pertaining both to the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing and cryptocurrency. Through these, we can gather a reasonable picture of what exactly cryptocurrency is, as well its burgeoning economic/environmental relationship with hydraulic fracturing.

Part Four

Evonni Tatum engaged in informal interviews and communicated with individuals from the Marion Energy Partners proposal, the city clerk’s office for Mannington, West Virginia, and and the staff for “Inside Climate News”. While interviewing the Mannington city clerk, she viewed more documents about the concerns of people in Mannington about the current state of the environment due to fracking practices. Not only did she hold semi-structured interviews with these individuals, she also took note of how many of these individuals have a negative view of the fracking center or a positive view. The laws currently in place along with the people’s opinion on fracking is the most important focus of her interviews. She wanted to do the interviews in person as opposed to zoom because she believes that she could capture a better understanding in person without having to worry about connectivity issues. Due to the current public health climate, she was only able to do zoom and email-based interviews.


Jenna and Olivia composed a questionnaire to gain insight into public perceptions. The questionnaire was designed to examine the opinions individuals in the Morgantown and Westover areas have toward the alleged 'crypto' processing facility. The results of the questionnaire provided valuable insight into what feelings and anxieties community members held toward the proposal, if at all. We created a coding system to organize public opinion in the following section.

Note: This is a targeted questionnaire. Results do not represent those of a random sampling survey.

Results of Questionnaire (127 responses):

Total support:

Did not know about the facility before questionnaire: 2

Knew about before questionnaire: 4

Ambivalent support:

Did not know about the facility before questionnaire: 3

Knew about before questionnaire: 4


Did not know about the facility before questionnaire: 3

Knew about facility before questionnaire: 7

Ambivalent opposition:

Did not know about the facility before questionnaire: 10

Knew about facility before questionnaire: 19

Total opposition:

Did not know about the facility before questionnaire:19

Knew about facility before questionnaire: 56

Poster created by Olivia and Jenna with a QR Code to the questionnaire.


Based off of the initial question, asking if the participants knew about the proposed facility in Morgantown Industrial Park, 90 people responded that they had heard about it previously and 37 of the questionnaire takers said they had not heard of the proposed crypto-mining facility. The questionnaire is showing indication of more people in opposition in some capacity rather that support for the crypto-mining facility.

Overall the people who did support the crypto-mining facility in some capacity believed that the economic pros out weighed the cons. They also felt pride that Morgantown has always been a mining community and took offense to the questionnaire. Some of these people even resorted to insulting us because they did not agree with the purpose of the questionnaire or its specific questions. There were two categories among the people who had neutral opinions. The first category consisted of those who needed more information on the facility before they could form a solid opinion. The second category consisted of those who did not care about the facility and were mad about the questions we asked. Some examples of opinions were, "Very happy. I'm glad West Virginia, especially near my neighborhood, is embracing the future of crypto currencies; I want to do more research about it. This is the first I have heard of it; This is West Virginia, coal is part of our heritage; All for it as long as they are paying taxes."

The questionnaire takers that were opposed to the crypto-mining facility in some form or another felt very strongly about their opinion. There were multiple residents who are concerned for their physical well-being due to pre-existing health conditions. For example one resident said, "We are a family of asthmatics. Before moving to WV no one in my family had lung issues." Others responses were simple and to the point opinions that were expressed as, "bad, angry!, not good, concerned, keep out," etc. Some respondents felt that the "one percent" were taking advantage of them; "my politicians and local leaders have let me down. I will leave the city if this happens." Lastly, there were residents who plainly oppose crypto-currency; "Crypto-currency is a scam that ruins the environment and everything it touches."

Connecting our research to Sangaramoorthy et al.,2016:

Thurka Sangaramoorthy and colleagues published a study on the impacts of fracking titled, "Place-based perceptions of the impacts of fracking along the Marcellus Shale." They focused on the link between three health impacts of fracking. These include social disruption, environmental impacts, and health outcomes. This article emphasizes, "While these findings cannot be generalized to other communities... they can be helpful in understanding the role of place and psychosocial stress in understanding the potential health impacts of fracking in other communities facing similar issues," (Sangaramoorthy et al., 2016). Based on this quote, it is clear that our research is useful to the broader anthropological community. Focusing on the health impacts stated above was a large part of our research as well. Through our questionnaire we were able to gain insight into where people live, and to learn of their opinions on crypto. We can see that neighbors strongly disagree with each other, which causes a divide within the community. Most people were deeply concerned for the environment and some even had existing health problems. We saw many responses asking for more information on the matter to fully form an opinion. While crypto currency is not widely understood, it is important to start the conversation somewhere, such as, a small capstone classroom.

Source: T. Sangaramoorthy et al. / Social Science & Medicine 151 (2016) 27e37

2: Municipal Mundanities

January 11, 2022. DEP Public Comment Meeting

After learning of the proposed Science Facility, I attended a virtual Department of Air Quality (WVDAQ) meeting where community members had the opportunity to express air-quality concerns. Right off the bat, the mayor of Morgantown, Jennifer Selin, expressed her discomfort with the rapid permitting process—she felt that the city and its constituents did not have a fair chance at civil procedure. Mayor Selin also provided critiques of Marion Energy Partner's (MEP) proposed development project: “This permit does not specify the methods, the industry it’s operating in, or the regulatory practices of whatever industry it is. Marion Energy needs to work toward transparency. I’d like to see the proposal made more specific."

Paula Hunt, a resident of South Park, brought up a case in Upstate New York where a project similar to MEP's was approved. She stated: “These machines are polluters, be it water or air, and are noise polluters. They are energy hogs. Even Elon Musk won’t accept Bitcoin as currency anymore because of how dirty it is. The ‘miners’ aren’t being paid because they aren’t people, they're computers, and it doesn’t benefit the local economy through taxes. […] Also, it's near one of Morgantown’s elementary schools. With the lack of specifications in this proposal, I don’t feel it is safe to go forward.” Ms. Hunt then called for an extension of sixty days for comments, since there is new information coming out every day about the impacts of these data facilities.

After Hunt spoke, Nyoka Baker-Chapman took to the floor. Baker-Chapman noted that there are discrepancies in emissions reports relating to this project and others similar to it. She also brought up questions related to the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as public health concerns, namely, greenhouse gas sources may bring about a localized increase in cancers. One of the more prominent figures given at the meeting was shared by Baker-Chapman: in her research, she found that facilities with similar engines can be heard from five miles away. “This is louder than a freight train, which clocks in at about eighty-five decibels, while the facility’s is ninety-two to ninety-five.”

There seemed to be a few powerhouse speakers in a row, and that held true for the next speaker, Duane Nichols, a former engineer. He dug into the specifics of the proposal: the engines, catalyst fouling, hazardous gasses. “I predict significant problems related to the lubricant oil fluids in water from the engines. Local pollutants have the potential to dramatically increase without the protection equipment realizing it. We could have a big problem on our hands. This company, and its parent company, have no experience in this field or its safety and they do not have any partner companies nearby to dig them out of any problems.”

Morgantown City councilmember William Kawecki spoke next. He brought about a point that I found to be very anthropological in its nature: civic literacy. “Our locals are forced to become experts in industry in breakneck amounts of time. It’s just inaccessible to understand.” Civic science is an important part of grassroots advocacy (Wylie 2018). Having small amounts of time to comprehend industry-specific proposals is oftentimes inaccessible to those who must understand it for their own health and well-being. Those in opposition of the Science Center must jump through hoops brought about by multiple agencies on top of learning engineering jargon. The accessibility of resistance becomes increasingly difficult when the opposition must first become experts in the field of engineering, then work to jump through the hoops of bureaucracy.

DEP Response to comments: March 7, 2022

In reading this document, it became evident that bureaucracy informs the hiccups and the specificities of permitting processes. There are many stipulations, such as the 'Best Available Control Analysis', ambient air quality standards, and noise. The Department of Air Quality described jurisdictional roadblocks in the case of noise pollution. It was made abundantly clear within this document that noise pollution was not of their concern, but of the county's planning commission. It was mentioned at the January meeting that this commission has empty seats, and hasn't taken a case in a couple of years.

On page 8 of the official response, the concern of unprocessed natural gas was addressed. This concern was brought about by Duane Nichols, former engineer, at the meeting in January. The response outlines that in natural gas processing, the goal is to recover hydrocarbons. The pipeline itself has its own gas quality standards, apart from regulation. “EPA does not establish natural gas quality standards for the pipeline operators or gas producers. However, EPA does define what is “natural gas” and “pipeline natural gas” as applied under the Clean Air Act.” The document then shows a table of the gas analyses provided by Marion Energy Partners LLC. West Virginia State Delegate Barbara Fleischauer mentioned that it seemed ‘sketchy’ that the permittees were providing their own gas samples. But it seems to me that, since the regulation is apparently null, this wouldn’t make a difference, unfortunately. And since the DEP already allows Marion Energy Partners LLC to be responsible for self-reporting their emissions, why not the contents of their natural gas as well?

This brought about another question from Duane Nichols (a thorn in the side of Marion Energy Partners) of Gas Quality Monitoring, which is found on page 11 of the document:

“Several comments expressed concerns about the lack of fuel quality monitoring and that spikes in salts and ethane can cause issues with the catalysts. Gas producers from horizontally fracked wells usually (emphasis added) have sand traps to remove sand and salts from field gas before routing it to a gas processing unit (gpu). If left untreated, the sands and salts would cause numerous issues in operating their gathering pipeline system (e.g., plugged and foulage issues) before the gas could be shipped to another facility or end users. In addition, the gas analysis methods used in the industry to determine the gas quality are not capable of detecting salts.”

The final determination was released the same day as the response to comments, drafted by Edward Andrews, Project Engineer. It outlines that the comments submitted did not sway the acceptance of the permit, though it did not include the dates for which comments were accepted. It is also written that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not have any comments that pertained to the draft permit. The Department of Air Quality shall issue the permit unless:

“a determination is made that the proposed construction, modification, registration or relocation will violate applicable emission standards, will interfere with attainment or maintenance of an applicable ambient air quality standard, cause or contribute to a violation of an applicable air quality increment, or be inconsistent with the intent and purpose of this rule or W. Va. Code 22-5-1, in which case an order denying such construction, modification, relocation and operation shall be issued. The Secretary [Harold D. Ward] shall, to the extent possible, give priority to the issuance of any such permit so as to avoid undue delay and hardship” (3).

Several commenters did ask that the emissions of Marion Energy Partners LLC’s project be combined with nearby emissions, like nearby gas wells, but this was not approved by the DAQ. These gas wells are only a half-mile away, and yet they are not being considered into the Ambient Air Quality as a unit. It is as if these polluters exist in a vacuum. Basically, unless Marion Energy Partners LLC becomes a permitted major source of criteria pollutants, the permit stands. As for the Science Center being an alleged Bitcoin mining operation, there was an especially interesting paragraph addressing this in the final determination document:

“Several commenters expressed or made claims that the Science Facility was going to be used for Bitcoin Mining Operations. The applicant had presented the proposed facility as four natural gas fired engines to be used to generate electricity for a 'data center' in the application. At this time, DAQ has found no evidence that the applicant is going to construct any emission units other than what is proposed in the application. The DAQ has no explicit authority to request the applicant to disclose the function of the 'data center'. None of the oral comments provided during the public meeting suggested that additional emission units would be necessary to operate a 'data center'" (9).

It does not matter to the DAQ if it is to become a Bitcoin mining operation, because their jurisdiction is air emissions. Not noise, not function, just air emissions. And even these requirements for emissions are limited. Marion Energy Partners LLC may operate their data center as long as they do not exceed air emission standards set forth by the DAQ. These emissions are not taken into account alongside nearby polluters.

3: Hydraulic Fracturing's Emerging Connection to Cryptocurrency

In a world as newly founded as cryptocurrency, we should expect rapid change. When popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin first began to gain public notoriety, the methods of acquiring said currency were different and far less diverse than what we find today. It was not uncommon to find relatively small operations "mining" small amounts of the currency at a slow clip, however this was prior to the boom we have seen in cryptocurrency, during which the means of mining cryptocurrency have become far more complex and of considerably larger size. By no means is this a statement that smaller "crypto" operations are not still prevalent, but there is no denying that the game has changed. Big spenders, whether they be companies or wealthy individuals, are involved in cryptocurrency more than ever before, and with this influx of traditional currency being spent to mine the new decentralized currency, the methods of acquisition seemingly change on a whim. There is no exact method of mining cryptocurrency, however there are areas of intrigue just beyond the horizon that may shape the way that crypto investors seek their results.

What is cryptocurrency and where does it come from?

There is no singular answer for what cryptocurrency is. At its core, cryptocurrency is a decentralized currency, meaning that it relies on nothing other than itself and the consumer that uses it to maintain its value. This differentiates cryptocurrency from other "traditional" currencies such as the US dollar or Euro, as those are backed via governments and banking systems. Bitcoin, for example, does not require a middle-man to be transferred between users, as it uses it own transfer system. There is high variability between these currencies, with Bitcoin being by far the most popular and valuable. This variability extends through their uses, availability, and the means by which they are acquired.

For the sake of brevity, we can discuss the means by which Bitcoin is "mined". Bitcoin is not mined in the traditional sense, as there is nothing physical to obtain. Bitcoin mining rather refers to a complex mathematical system by which new coins are added to circulation. In an attempt to explain an exceedingly complex topic, we can think of it in this way: there are bitcoin codes waiting to be discovered, and successfully mining one of these codes means that you have successfully acquired a bitcoin. This is different than exchange of bitcoin in which someone would pay USD, for example, in exchange for some amount of bitcoin, rather these bitcoins are not yet in circulation prior to them being mined. The mining process itself requires a significant amount of computing, and by consequence energy power, running constantly in order to find these nearly random sequences of code. Once the code is found, this can be quite lucrative. However, in the midst of the search for these codes, these computers are running with essentially no purpose other than to input sequences of code in hopes of finding a bitcoin. These are not standard computers either. These are top of the line computers with far more computing power than your laptop or desktop computer. This being the case, they require an enormous amount of energy power, posing the question: Where does this power come from?

Powering Cryptocurrency

In powering computers allocated to cryptocurrency mining, there is a vast need for electricity. This has traditionally been done using more widespread forms of producing electricity. Bitcoin mining is by far most prevalent in China and India, which both produce considerable coal, thus making coal the primary energy power source. However when we consider coal's decline, there is need to replace it. Environmental regulations are beginning to take hold even in countries that are notorious for their lack of environmental concern, and thus a replacement has been needed. This is where hydraulic fracturing comes into play. In India and in the United States, fracking has begun to become a viable option for accumulating the necessary energy power for these computing systems. Natural gas is far less regulated than coal or oil, and is cleaner than both of these fossil fuels, thus making it ideal for investors looking to start mining cryptocurrency without the backlash that comes with such a polluting activity. The issues that arise here are often more directly linked with human communities than coal or oil. Fracking is notorious in its ability to upset local communities, whether it be from the constant work and noise that accompanies the gas wells, or from the potential health effects that are sometimes seen in areas immediately surrounding wells. These concerns have not stopped investors from becoming immersed in both cryptocurrency and hydraulic fracturing as it continues to become more prevalent with each passing day.

4: Interviews with Officials and Community Members

To accurately build an understanding of how community members felt about the data mining center coming to Morgantown, Evonni conducted informal interviews with the Chief Communications Officer from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), the Project Engineer from the WVDEP/Division of Air Quality, and an individual that works at the State Capitol Building in Charleston. These interviews were conducted with a set of questions that were key in understanding the individuals' knowledge of data mining/fracking/bitcoin mining while also allowing them to explain their position/opinion.

Questions Proposed During Semi-Structured Interviews

  1. What do you currently do as a career? Does it relate to the fracking industry?

  2. How much do you know about the industry and its spread throughout the state of West Virginia?

  3. What is your viewpoint of the fracking industry as a whole? Do you believe that fracking positively affects the environment or do you believe that it negatively affects the environment?

  4. What do you know about the proposed data mining center that will soon be in Morgantown? Do you think that the data mining center is necessary or unnecessary? Do you believe that the community of Morgantown will benefit from it? Why or why not?

  5. Would you agree with Jenny Selin (Morgantown Mayor) that noise pollution should be a consideration into air quality permitting?

  6. Do you have an opinion about bitcoin mining? About cryptocurrency?

Ed Andrews, Project Engineer for WVDEP/Division of Air Quality

While conducting the interview with Ed Andrews, he explained that his job is centered around the permittance of stationary air pollution. The acts that he focuses mainly on were the Air Pollution Control Air (WV State Act) and the Clean Air Act (Federal Act). He and others at the WVDEP make sure that there is an enforcement of rules and regulations. In order to make sure that I had a clear understanding of the federal register, Ed Andrews sent me four sites that I will tag below.

eCFR :: 40 CFR Part 60 Subpart OOOO -- Standards of Performance for Crude Oil and Natural Gas Facilities for Which Construction, Modification, or Reconstruction Commenced After August 23, 2011, and on or Before September 18, 2015

Federal Register :: Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review


Terry Fletcher, Chief Communications Officer WVDEP

Terry Fletcher begins by explaining his career and explaining what the WVDEP does. He explains that the agency is "charged with protecting our state's air, land, and water by enforcing all applicable state and federal environmental regulations". The specific office that Terry works at is the Office of Oil and Gas and their main focus is to regulate oil and gas activity for the state of WV.

As a part of the WV OOG, Terry has a responsibility to monitor and regulate the actions in relation to exploration, drilling, storage, and production of oil and natural gas. Terry goes on the rest of the interview to explain as a whole what the WVDEP does, not just him. As an agency, the WVDEP's main purpose when it comes to the fracking industry as a whole is to protect the human health and the environment that we live in.

Terry informs me that the Marion Energy Partners submitted a permit application to the WVDEP's Division of Air Quality (DAQ) which explained the construction and operation of the data processing center that consisted of four natural gas-fired engines. These engines are key in generating electric power to the facility. These engines are the only aspect of the facility that the DAQ has regulation over. The DAQ's jurisdiction begins and ends with the emission sources and has no jurisdiction over regulation or permittance of how the facility will use the electricity it generates.

Evan Hansen, WV State Delegate, 51st District Mon County

Back in 2013, Hansen was concerned with the WV State Law and a need for the improvement of data collection and the reporting requirements of the environmental waste in relation to fracking. He believes that there was increase in pollution levels due to water issues and oil and gas development. The Office of Oil and Gas has a lack of staff for oil and gas inspectors, which is contributing to the lack of accurate monitoring and regulation in the environment.

Focusing on Morgantown Specifically



Living with Natural Gas Pipelines: Appalachian Landowners Describe Fear, Anxiety and Loss

Appalachians from Ohio to Pennsylvania to West Virginia are no strangers to the unfairness of the effects of hydraulic fracking on the environment. For Morgantown residents, they also are experiencing a lack of communication, transparency and understanding. A recent study (Carlson and Caretta 2021) asked residents of rural Appalachia to describe their experiences of living with fracking and gas development infrastructure. The effects of endless miles of pipeline development infrastructure altered the landscapes in these areas, posing threats to health and safety, ecology, property, land, air and water quality, and bringing about nuisances like noise, and fears of more devastating consequences such as spills and explosions. They overwhelmingly generated among respondents a general sense of fear and anxiety. For Morgantown residents facing this new "Science Center," they too fear for their future. They have to worry about many of these same issues, particularly potential point and cumulative sources of contamination, air emissions, water pollution, accidents and spills, and an almost certain and unregulated noise pollution.

Citation: Carlson, Erin Brock and Martina Angela Caretta, "Living with Natural Gas Pipelines: Appalachian Landowners Describe Fear, Anxiety, and Loss," The Conversation February 3, 2021. https://theconversation.com/living-with-natural-gas-pipelines-appalachian-landowners-describe-fear-anxiety-and-loss-152586

Pictures of the Environmental Health and Justice group hard at work

Photographer: Jenna Ablak

Not pictured: Evonni Tatum