A Facebook subcontractor's efforts to install undersea fiber optic cables off the coast of Oregon resulted in an accident that forced the company to leave a sizable amount of drilling equipment on the sea floor.
The accident, first reported by the Tillamook Headlight Herald and The Oregonian, has led to more than 1,000 feet of pipe, containers of drilling fluid totaling more than 6,000 gallons, and other equipment languishing on the ocean floor since late April. The company reportedly has no plans to retrieve any of it.
In a statement, the company argued that the equipment poses no environmental risk while an operation to remove it would carry such a danger.
“While marine retrieval of the remaining equipment and drilling mud may be possible,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Oregonian, “such an effort is not guaranteed to succeed and it is not an environmentally prudent option.”
“The project was delayed due to circumstances that are not under our control, such as COVID-19 disruptions and permitting delays. We currently plan to remobilize in early 2021 to finish construction. Unfortunately, during the final days of construction in April of this year, the horizontal drilling pipe broke unexpectedly and the drill head fell off and remains at the site, approximately 50 feet under the seafloor. We have worked with an independent environmental specialist and other experts and determined that there is no negative environmental or public health impact from the drill head remaining at the site," a Facebook spokesperson told The Hill in an email.
Much if not all of the equipment remains at the bottom of a hole drilled by the subcontractor, Edge Cable Holdings, which reportedly plans to return next year and seal the chasm, resulting in the equipment being buried under the sea floor.
However, Oregon's Department of State Lands has notified the company that it has 30 days to settle a permit violation, as the company is now technically using the area as a storage site for the equipment, which is not allowed.
The Department of State Lands also informed the Facebook subsidiary that it must address “current and future risks and liabilities that may arise from the abandoned” equipment, according to The Oregonian.
State Rep. David Gomberg, who represents the area in Oregon's legislature and initially supported the company's project in the area, told The Oregonian that Facebook's conduct had turned him against future business with the company.
“I have come to the conclusion that [local residents who opposed the project] were absolutely right,” he told the newspaper. “Facebook has been an unfriendly neighbor. These folks now have to be worried about what washes up on their beach for generations.”