You probably saw them on TV — oil booms played a big part in keeping the oil slick away from the coast during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Oil booms are arranged around the oil spill and help keep it in place so that it can be cleaned up more easily. They’re also used for the actual clean-up.
That’s because there are actually two kinds — absorbent and non-absorbent oil booms.
Non-absorbent oil booms
The main function of the non-absorbent kind is to contain the oil. They float on the surface and keep the oil from escaping into the environment where it would cause a lot of damage.
The specifics of their design varies from lightweight to heavy duty, depending on whether they’re made to be deployed in placid lakes and protected areas, such as harbors and marinas, or whether they’re made for more challenging conditions, such as along coast lines or in the open ocean.
As a rule, they contain a version of polyethylene foam flotation blocks and vinyl-coated skirting. These are highly effective barriers that block oil and debris. Many high quality oil booms come with a galvanized steel chain to add weight to the bottom of the oil boom to keep pollutants in.
They also can be hooked together to create long enough barriers to contain oil slicks of a range of different sizes. The oil booms themselves generally are 50 or 100 feet long.
Absorbent oil booms
Absorbent oil booms are designed to absorb oil and float on the surface when they’re full. They’re very large, so they can absorb a whole lot of oil. Once they have reached their capacity, they can be pulled out and replaced with fresh booms.
So if you believe you might need to contain and clean up an oil spill on water at some point, you will need both kinds of oil booms: to contain the oil, you’ll need non-absorbent booms, and to clean it up, you’ll need absorbent oil booms.