His name is James Howells and he lives in Newport, South Wales. He mined 7,500 bitcoins in just a week when no one else was , but then he forgot about it and the hard drive in which he kept them ended up in a landfill.
Now Howells has spent years trying to find that hard drive, which at the moment would be worth more than 315 million euros if he can locate it and recover the data . He has quit his job to dedicate himself to it, but the city council of his city does not let him look for it: they say that removing the landfill it is supposedly in could cause environmental damage.
The story of this tragedy – there are others like it – is beautifully told in The New Yorker , where they reveal how Howells soon realized his mistake. He then tried to start searching for the hard drive, and that has ended up becoming his particular obsession .
Howells’ agony was growing as fast as the value of that hard drive, which was already worth five million euros when the search began. Initially, his soul fell to the ground: the garbage in that place occupied an area similar to what fifteen football fields would occupy .
However, shortly after he contacted the person in charge of the landfill, and he gave him hope: the landfill does not fill up with garbage just like that: there is order in chaos . It was feasible to locate the area where the hard drive might have been dumped – about 250 square meters – and all he needed was permission from the city council to start rummaging through the landfill.
There are doubts about whether the story of how Howells mined bitcoins – too fast, according to some critics – but the truth is that he still could not search for the disk in the landfill because they did not give him permission . He contacted his representative in the Welsh Parliament, in Cardiff, and with the British Parliament in London. He contacted investors and even reached an agreement with two businessmen who agreed to finance the disk recovery operation: Howells would keep a third of what they managed to recover.
He ended up offering the Newport city council 25% of what was found so that it could be used to recover the economic damages of COVID-19, but not for that: the city did not accept.
He created a presentation with all the details and estimated that the search would cost about five million pounds, but there could be scope for further funding. With a team of 25 people, he could complete the search operation in the designated area in less than a year.
The city council continues to refuse to give permission for the operation. Government officials say the project is too uncertain and too risky for the environment . And there they are, perhaps, those 7,500 bitcoins. Lost like so many others .