Legislative Day 2: Gas leases and bitcoin discussed

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 11:37 AM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - It’s an interesting case of new technologies—and making money—combining with the old ways.

South Dakota legislators Wednesday heard about concerns that bitcoin mining on the high plains of Harding County in northwest South Dakota may not be going according to plan.

A cryptocurrency maker obtained natural gas leases in Harding County from the state’s School and Public Lands to produce electricity to power large computers that “mine” bitcoin.

One official says the project looks like large boxes or buildings on the short grass prairie.

However, the Joint Appropriations Committee members Wednesday morning heard from School and Public Lands officials and others that there are problems.

The first is that crypto coin values have decreased from what promoters expected.

“Bitcoin has fallen on hard times,” said School and Public Lands land agent Mike Cornelison.

Second, according to officials, the leaseholder owes back taxes to Harding County.

And third, state law requires that if a well is not in production for five years, it must be plugged.  And there are inactive wells that need plugging.

Legislators asked new School and Public Lands Commissioner Brock Greenfield who is ultimately responsible for making sure the leases are paid and wells that need to be plugged are capped.

Greenfield said he was.

“It falls on me,” Greenfield, a former legislator, said. “We’ll get answers to you. It is our job to be stewards of our resources.”

However, he and other officials said School and Public Lands also works closely with the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources in monitoring the wells and capping them if necessary.

The committee took no action. Committee Co-Chair Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) did ask that DANR be ready to answer legislators’ questions about the natural gas wells in a subsequent hearing.