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Facebook Abandons Broken Drilling Equipment Under Oregon Coast Seafloor

Kale Williams, reporting for The Oregonian: Lynnae Ruttledge was worried when she heard Facebook planned to build a landing spot for an undersea fiber-optic cable near her Oregon Coast home. Tierra Del Mar, where the 70-year-old retired government worker lives part-time, is a tiny community north of Pacific City with no stoplights and no cell-phone service. The enclave, all zoned residential, consists of about a dozen mostly gravel streets running perpendicular to an idyllic stretch of beach, each lined with single-family homes. Ruttledge and many of her neighbors worried about heavy equipment on fragile roads built over sand dunes. They worried about noise and vibrations from the drill needed to punch a hole under the seafloor thousands of feet out into the ocean. They worried about threatened bird species, like the snowy plover and marbled murrelet, that could be affected.

Despite their concerns, and a vocal campaign to stop the project, construction began earlier this year. Then, on April 28, the drilling crew hit an unexpected area of hard rock. The drill bit became lodged and the drill pipe snapped 50 feet below the seafloor. The crew was able to recover some of the equipment, but they left the rest where it lay. Today, about 1,100 feet of pipe, a drill tip, various other tools and 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid sit under the seafloor just off the central Oregon coast. Facebook has no plans to retrieve the equipment. Edge Cable Holdings, a Facebook subsidiary responsible for the project, notified the county of the accident on May 5, but it did not explicitly mention the abandoned equipment. That information didn’t emerge until a meeting with state officials June 17, nearly two months after the malfunction, said Ali Hansen, a Department of State Lands spokeswoman. “The delay in notification eliminated any potential options for recovery of the equipment,” Hansen said in an email. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the company’s new plan is to return in early 2021 to drill a new hole, leaving the lost equipment under the seafloor indefinitely.

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