Brent Whitehead and Matt Lohstroh at the first unit they built in east Texas.

Matt Lohstroh

The Argentine province of Mendoza is famous for its vineyards and full-bodied Malbecs. But the popular wine region in the foothills of the Andes mountains is also home to the world’s second-largest shale gas reserve called Vaca Muerta, which translates to “dead cow.”

For two Texas-based bitcoin miners, the oil deposit offers a dream resource: wasted energy.

Brent Whitehead and Matt Lohstroh, both graduates of Texas A&M University, have been mining bitcoin on the oil fields of East Texas since 2019. That’s when they founded Giga Energy with the goal of taking flared natural gas and turning it into electricity to run bitcoin mines, which are notoriously power-thirsty.

On Tuesday, Giga announced its first foray into Argentina, following expansion across the U.S. and into Shanghai. The company is partnering with Phoenix Global Resources, an oil and gas company with operations in Mendoza, and with IT services company Exa Tech to launch a two megawatt bitcoin mine on top of Vaca Muerta.

Giga’s system involves placing a shipping container full of thousands of bitcoin miners on an oil well, then diverting the natural gas into generators, which convert the gas into electricity that’s used to power the miners. The process reduces CO2-equivalent emissions by about 63% compared to continued flaring — or burning — of unused gas, according to research from Denver-based Crusoe Energy Systems. It also turns wasted energy into a valuable asset for oil producers.

“By capturing stranded natural gas to power modular data centers for energy-intensive computing, Giga is actively contributing to reducing global methane emissions,” Whitehead told CNBC in an interview. Whitehead comes from a long line of “wildcats,” a term used to describe those who engage in high-risk exploratory drilling.

On the small pilot site in Argentina, Exa Tech is handling operations on the ground, Phoenix Global is providing the gas and Giga is supplying the equipment.

Bitcoin mining operation in the prolific Argentinian oil patch.

ExaTech

Bitcoin mining is particularly lucrative whenever there’s a bull market in the cryptocurrency, making current market conditions particularly ripe for a buildout. Bitcoin has soared 170% in the past six months, touching multiple all-time price highs of late, a rally sparked in part by optimism surrounding the launch of spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the U.S.

The boom has helped buoy the share prices of publicly traded bitcoin miners. Riot Platforms more than quadrupled in value last year. CleanSpark jumped more than fivefold in 2023 and is up another 112% this year. Cipher Mining soared over 600% last year and has gained 27% in 2024.

Lohstroh told CNBC that Giga has generated over $10 million in revenue so far this quarter. It’s not the only miner that sees opportunity in Argentina, which ranks 12th on the list of the top global emitters of methane, according to World Bank data.

Crusoe, which helps oil companies like ExxonMobil convert flare gas into a useful resource, helped launch a bitcoin mine at Vaca Muerta in June, as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the energy waste and environmental impacts of natural gas flaring. 

Giga’s mine is intentionally small to start and isn’t intended to be profitable yet. The company first wants to make sure it can successfully import all the necessary equipment before scaling the operation. The mine has been running a test since December, and Lohstroh estimates the site has mined in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 worth of bitcoin.

Giga projects the mine is set to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 30,000 tons per year at the upstream facility. The site is also designed to sell any excess power to the Argentina grid as a way to both generate revenue and curb operational redundancies.

Bitcoin mining operation in the prolific Argentinian oil patch.

ExaTech

Crypto is popular in Argentina

It helps that bitcoin isn’t a hard sell in a country whose residents have long faced economic instability and wild currency fluctuations.

The government’s official figures show that annual inflation hit 211% in 2023, the highest in 32 years, further eroding the country’s purchasing power. Today, 2 in 5 Argentines live in poverty.

Vitalik Buterin, the co-creator of ethereum, previously told CNBC that crypto has far greater use cases in Argentina than in many other parts of the world, noting that he found coffee shops that accepted bitcoin and ether.

When I visited Argentina back at the end of 2021, lots of people used crypto, lots of people loved crypto,” Buterin sad. “I literally got recognized on the streets of Buenos Aires more often than I got recognized in San Francisco.”

Argentina’s president, Javier Milei, said at the World Economic Forum in January that “shock therapy” is the only way to address the profound crisis facing his country. One tactic involved devaluing the national currency by 50% in an effort to curb inflation. Milei, who took over as president in December, has embraced bitcoin and has proposed dollarizing the economy, as well as abolishing the central bank and privatizing the pension system.

“We started this before Milei went into office,” Lohstroh said. “I think it’s pretty interesting that in lockstep, in stride, we’re turning this equipment online in the region, as it’s becoming dollarized and becoming more stable and giving real investment dollars into the economy.”

Federico Brom, Exa Tech’s director of business development, says Argentina has “basically banned imports” as a way to protect its currency. That could be a headwind for scaling the bitcoin mining business.

Still, Brom said he’s seen “a lot of support, a lot of hype and a lot of interest” in what they’re offering.

Correction: A prior version of this story had an incorrect figure for the projected reduction in C02 emissions at Giga’s Argentine mine.

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