Cryptocurrency Miners Have Made Over $330 Million Mining Empty Blocks

Cryptocurrency miners have, across the most popular proof-of-work (PoW) blockchains, made over $300 million mining empty blocks, not securing their network. The problem has been slowly decreasing, however.

According to blockchain research firm Diar, revenues coming from empty blocks were a “negligible portion of total revenues,” but have surpassed the $300 million mark.  In total, miners have made over $21 billion since the start of each blockchain, with Bitcoin accounting for over half of that amount.

The report reads:

Despite a year-on-year decline in the number of empty blocks being solved for Bitcoin, miners have now exceeded $100Mn in revenue since 2012 providing no real value to the network

Per Diar’s report, the number of empty blocks being mined across the cryptocurrency space has halved since 2016, and dropped by almost 20% last year, compared to 2017. In total, Litecoin has rewarded miners with $125 million for solving empty blocks, while Ethereum rewarded them with $113 million, and Bitcoin with little over $100 million.

Ethereum miners, the report adds, earned over $67 million from empty blocks in 2017, when the prices of most cryptocurrencies surged to new all-time highs. This, per Diar, is “by far the greatest reward for a full year across all blockchains.” Since then, ETH has seen a 95% drop in empty blocks mined.

Mining less empty blocks has been helping the Bitcoin network’s fees get lower, as “more blocks are finding transactions.” Compared to Bitcoin, BCH has seen an additional 3,335 empty blocks since August of 2017 – when it forked off the Bitcoin blockchain – despite having less transaction volume.

The report adds the figures should be alarming, as miners have essentially been earning the equivalent of $5 million per month for doing nothing.

The value that is being rewarded for empty blocks should strike alarm bells as revenues across major networks have earned miners for Proof-of-Nothing with $335Mn - the equivalent of $5Mn per month.

PoW-based blockchains reward miners with a specific amount of cryptocurrency per mined block, along with the fees from the transactions included in said block. Diar notes that while the fees today are a small incentive for miners, as rewards drop because of halving events, they will matter in the future.

Fees on the Bitcoin blockchain notably hit an all-time high in December of 2017, when BTC itself got close to the $20,000 mark. Since then, they’ve been dropping because of a decrease in empty blocks, SegWit adoption, transaction batching, and increased Lightning Network adoption.

U.S. SEC Needs More Time to Consider VanEck Bitcoin ETF Proposal, Invites Comments

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced on Monday (May 20) that it needed more time to consider the VanEck–SolidX Bitcoin ETF proposal. This delay also gives interested parties more time to comment on the proposal and address the SEC's main concerns. 

On 30 January 2019, Cboe BZX Exchange ("BZX") filed with the SEC a proposed rule change to list/trade shares of "SolidX Bitcoin Shares", which would be issued by the VanEck SolidX Bitcoin Trust. This proposed rule change was published in the Federal Register on 20 February 2019. It then had 45 days to approve, disapprove, or ask for a delay.

(Note, however, that BZX had filed its original proposal back in June 2018; the SEC delayed a decision on this proposal several times, and February 27 was the final deadline for the SEC to make a decision. However, due to the U.S. government shutdown that occurred in December 2018 and ended in January 2019, the SEC was partially out of action during this period. By the time that the SEC fully operational again, there was only a few weeks left till the final deadline. So, to give this Bitcoin ETF proposal the best chance of success, on 22 January 2019, BZX withdrew its original proposal, and re-applied (in order to reset the clock) on 30 January 2019.)

Anyway, on 29 March 2019, the SEC released a notice to say that it had selected 21 May 2019 as the date by which it should approve, disapprove, or ask for a further delay to consider the grounds for disapproving the Bitcoin ETF proposal. Why 21 May 2019? Because 90 days is the maximum amount of time it could ask for, and 21 May 2019 is 90 days from 20 February 2019, which was the date that the proposal got published in the Federal Register.  

Well, yesterday (i.e. just one day before the expiry of the 90-day deadline), the SEC decided to delay making a decision, and this time it had to provide "notice of the grounds for disapproval under consideration" (i.e. explain why it thinks that it might deny the proposal).

Here are a few of the SEC's concerns, and it is inviting the ETF's sponsor, i.e. BZX, and other interested parties to provide written comments (in either electronic or paper form):

  • Has BZX "entered into a surveillance-sharing agreement with a regulated market of significant size related to bitcoin?"
  • What is the relationship between the Bitcoin futures market and the Bitcoin spot market?
  • The proposed Bitcoin ETF uses "a non-public, proprietary index to value holdings based on OTC activity", but is this really "an appropriate means to calculate the NAV of an exchange-traded product"?
  • BZX has said in its proposal that it "has entered into a comprehensive surveillance sharing agreement with the Gemini Exchange and is working to establish similar agreements with other bitcoin venues." But is the Gemini digital asset exchange "a regulated market of significant size"?

Any arguments regarding whether the proposal should be approved or disapproved need to be submitted within 21 days of publication in the Federal Register of yesterday's order (Release No. 34-85896; File No. SR-CboeBZX-2019-004), and anyone who wants to "file a rebuttal to any other person’s submission" must do so no later than within 35 days of the date of publication in the Federal Register.

The following tweets were sent out on May 19, i.e. the day before the SEC made this latest announcement, by Crypto Twitter's favorite U.S. attorney, Jake Chervinsky:

According to Chervinsky, "VanEck's new deadline is August 19," and the "SEC can & likely will delay one more time for a final deadline of October 18."

This is how Gabor Gurbacs, Director of Digital Assets Strategy at VanEck/MVIS, expressed his personal thoughts on the SEC's ultra cautious attitude towards Bitcoin ETFs:

The SEC choosing to delay making a decision on the VanEck Bitcoin ETF proposal did not come as a surprise to the crypto markets, which reacted very calmly (Bitcoin's price only went down slightly), and in fact, at press time (11:00 UTC on May 21), according to data from CryptoCompare, Bitcoin is trading at $7,945, up 0.33% in the past 24-hour period:

BTC - 24 Hour CC Chart - 21 May 2019.png