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Cable Company Abandons Drilling Equipment on Ocean Floor

August 25th Update:

Since our joint agency and Governor's office letter and follow up actions of local volunteers and advocates in late July, both leadership and agency enforcement actions have been developing. Here are some recent updates over the past few weeks. The initial assessment by state natural resource agencies was that there was no immediate threat to people or the environment. Oregon Parks and Recreation has required Edge Cable Holdings (the developer) respond by the end of the month with a full incident hazard report. On August 25th, Edge responded to all requests, including a commitment to a peer-reviewed, third party hazards review. Parks has also developed a state web page on the incident, where all documentation and official correspondence with the developer can be found. The Department of State Lands, which administers the more relevant permit to enforcement, issued a "Notice of Default and Opportunity to Cure" on the cable company's abandoned equipment requiring essentially negotiation of a fine and mitigation and removal of abandoned equipment or application for encroachment easement. You can download the permits and read the enforcement correspondence here.

While Surfrider Foundation commends our state agencies, particularly the Department of State Lands and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department for swift follow-up and enforcement actions, we are concerned about the gap in long term planning and policy protections that exist for incidents such as these (or potentially worse) on the seafloor and ocean shore. As such, our chapters are already working towards developing a longer term policy campaign targeting the 2021 legislature. Oregon has provided these types of policy protections and planning for other development projects in Oregon's ocean like renewable energy - shouldn't we do the same for these telecommunication development projects? Surfrider sees an opportunity, and has already garnered soft commitments to work collaboratively with industry leaders such as the Oregon's Fisherman Cable Commission and State lawmakers to improve statewide policy protections and planning this coming legislative session for greater assurances in the event of future accidents. Stay tuned.

July 27th - Original article / incident:

Edge Cable Holdings Inc., a subcontractor for Facebook, has abandoned 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid, over 1,000 feet of drill pipe and about $500K worth of drilling equipment just off the beach in Tierra Del Mar...and didn't tell anyone for 2 months. According to the Department of State Lands (DSL), the agency responsible for permitting the project on the ocean floor, "Edge Cable did not notify DSL of the abandoned equipment until June 17th", almost 2 months after the accident had occurred on April 28th. According to the agency, "The delay in notification eliminated any potential options for recovery of the equipment". Surfrider Foundation and Oregon Coast Alliance are researching and documenting the myriad of violations and assessing resource impacts as we await the recourse actions of the Department of State Lands.

A schematic furnished by Edge of the abandoned pipe and drilling equipment

For individuals and groups like Oregon Coast Alliance that opposed this project in the first place this news comes as a worst case scenario nightmare - an accident and then complete negligence from the contractor, abandoning hazardous equipment just off and under the beach they love to recreate on. While underwater cable landings have become common in the Pacific City area of the Oregon coast and can generally be performed safely, this particular landing was to happen in a residential neighborhood in Tierra Del Mar. Read a little more why some individuals and groups opposed the cable landing. We understand the need for such projects to accommodate the many services Oregonians depend upon (heck, I couldn't post this and you couldn't read it without internet); however, we believe that these projects must be held accountable and be managed with strong policy that protects our natural resources and ocean habitats.

When the State of Oregon was faced with a similar dilemma in planning wave energy for our Territorial Sea, fishermen and other ocean users were adamant about developing strong policy around abandonment and derelict equipment. In addition to an entire new chapter in our Territorial Sea Plan (Part V), legislators were quick to respond with bonding requirements for these energy projects. Doesn’t boring through the ocean floor, under the ocean shore and into neighborhoods deserve the same level of protection and accountability as ocean renewable energy? Part IV of our Territorial Sea Plan outlines the policies and coordinates management of the uses of Oregon's seafloor and provides us with an opportunity to develop and outline such protections and accountability, as was done with wave energy projects - this is an opportunity for Oregon's Fisherman's Cable Committee, which negotiates and works with cable companies on routes and landings in state waters, to play an important leadership role for the state.

Together with Oregon Coast Alliance, we call upon Oregon's state agencies to do the following things immediately:

1. The Department of State Lands and the Parks and Recreation Department should withdraw the permits to Edge Cable for this submarine cable project wholly. A full assessment of the resource impacts and policy planning to avoid/mitigate future incidents should follow.
2. The State of Oregon must assess a large fine against Edge Cable and its relevant subcontractors, of sufficient magnitude to provide the state with funds to mitigate the drilling trash Edge Cable left in the nearshore ocean, and to provide sufficient deterrent against future behaviors.

Further, we call upon our Governor and Oregon Legislature to undertake the following at its next opportunity:

1. Pass legislation creating stronger siting standards for submarine cables that prohibit them in residential areas, provide extensive fines for failure to report, failure to remove trash from accidents, and/or failure to adequately reclaim land or waters following an accident.
2. Set up a statewide bonding program administered by a state agency, such as the Department of State Lands, that will provide the state with adequate funds to undertake recovery of trash dumped in the ocean in the event of an accident like this one.