Facebook Contractor Experiences Another Drilling Mishap on Coastal Telecom Cable Project

Drilling mud used for the offshore telecom project escaped Jan. 25, the company says.

The efforts of a Facebook subsidiary to connect a trans-Pacific telecom cable to a landing spot on the Oregon Coast have hit another snag.

On Jan. 25, the company's contractor was drilling in Tierra del Mar, an unincorporated village of about 220 homes in Tillamook County, when the lubricant it used, referred to as "drilling mud," began escaping.

Facebook confirmed the incident, which was first reported by the Tillamook County Pioneer.

"While installing part of a subsea cable in Tillamook County, a small amount of non-toxic drilling mud surfaced and was quickly mitigated by our construction team," Kevin Salvadori, Facebook's director of network investments, told WW in a statement. "Incidents like this are not uncommon, and Edge Cable Holdings, our subsidiary in charge of the project, reported it to the appropriate state agencies. The careful stewardship of Oregon's coast is a tradition that must be our priority."

The company notified state and local officials by telephone the day of the incident and followed up with a Jan. 26 email, obtained by WW,  in which it estimated the leak at "less than 50 gallons."

In that email, a Facebook lawyer told officials that its contractor was cleaning up the spill with "absorbent wattles and hay bales in accordance with the approved inadvertent release plan," and would provide officials a report on the causes of the incident Jan. 28.

As WW reported last year, a Facebook subsidiary purchased a residential lot in Tierra del Mar in October 2018 to serve as a landing spot for an underwater cable that will connect Facebook's server farms in Central Oregon to Asia.

The project required the company to drill out from the residential lot under the beach and ocean floor about half a mile, where the cable would pass through the ocean floor and connect to the trans-Pacific cable.

But the drilling project went awry last year, and Facebook's contractor left machinery, 1,110 feet of drilling pipe and 6,500 gallons of drilling mud under the ocean. The company further inflamed residents who opposed the project by only belatedly telling state permitting authorities about the mishap.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg Is Despoiling a Tiny Coastal Village and Oregon's Natural Treasures. The State Invited Him.

In the Tillamook County Pioneer, Edmund Ruttledge, a Tierra del Mar resident and leader of opposition to the project, called the Jan. 25 incident "just the latest failure in a project fraught with serial setbacks."

Correction: This story originally said the leak of the drilling mud occurred underwater. In fact, the leak occurred on land. WW regrets the error.