Report: Facebook Quietly Abandoned Drilling Gear Off the Oregon Coast

The oceanfront lot bought by Facebook for the site of its proposed landing spot for a submarine fiberoptic cable that would connect America with Asia is seen in Tierra del Mar, Oregon with an anti-Facebook sign.
The oceanfront lot bought by Facebook for the site of its proposed landing spot for a submarine fiberoptic cable that would connect America with Asia is seen in Tierra del Mar, Oregon with an anti-Facebook sign.
Photo: Andrew Selsky (AP)

Facebook has boldly face-planted right into one of the few remaining types of fuckups it hasn’t before: quietly abandoning a pile of drilling equipment under the ocean.

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Per the Oregonian, Facebook subsidiary Edge Cable Holdings was in the middle of drilling to place a trans-oceanic fiber optic cable off the coast of Tierra Del Mar, Oregon when a drill bit became stuck on April 28, 2020, rupturing a pipe approximately 50 feet below the seafloor. The company moved on, but “about 1,100 feet of pipe, a drill tip, various other tools, and 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid” did not. Edge notified county officials of the accident on May 5, Department of State Lands spokeswoman Ali Hansen told the Oregonian, but declined to mention it had left large amounts of equipment on the seafloor until it told state officials on July 17.

Hansen told the Oregonian that Edge’s delay in informing state officials “eliminated any potential options for recovery of the equipment,” while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the newspaper that Edge plans to just construct a separate pipe in 2021 without cleaning up after itself. Hansen’s department has notified Edge it is violating permits by continuing to “store” its equipment onsite, the paper reported, as well as notified Facebook it had 30 days to pay damages, 180 days to remove their junk or get a new permit, and must accept any liability for the incident.

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Oregon Coast Alliance Executive Director Cameron La Follette and the Surfrider Foundation’s Charlie Plybon told the Tillamook Headlight Herald, which reported on the story earlier this month, that the incident was “negligence on behalf of the operator.”

“Failure to notify the agency, and abandonment of equipment now apparently unrecoverable on and below the ocean floor, is not only a violation of Edge Cable’s permit, but represents a continuing and permanent trespass of public lands,” the two added.

Facebook disputed these accounts, saying the state had been notified earlier and adding that Edge had determined its sea trash wouldn’t harm the environment. Per the Oregonian:

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the drilling equipment remains below the seafloor just off the coast but disputed the timeline of when the state was notified. She said the company was aware the May 5 letter had been passed to state officials by a resident and followed up with a phone call with the Department of State Lands two days later.

She also said the company had performed an environmental assessment and “determined that there is no negative environmental or public health impact from the drill head remaining at the site.”

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Well, if Edge says it’s okay, then it must be! Hansen told the paper the drilling fluid in question was “biodegradable and environmentally neutral.” Even before the equipment and drilling fluid debacle, some local residents opposed the cable project. They said Edge’s construction had created noise, broken one house’s water main, and was generally unpleasant to be around. Residents were probably less than thrilled to learn of the garbage left behind as well.

“I sat down with the neighbors early and asked them what they wanted from Facebook,” State Representative David Gomberg told the Oregonian. “Did they want their roads paved? Or better internet service? Or to turn the lots into a park? Their position was they didn’t want Facebook at all.”

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“I have come to the conclusion that (the residents) were absolutely right,” Gomberg said. “Facebook has been an unfriendly neighbor. These folks now have to be worried about what washes up on their beach for generations.”