Workers remove containment boom in water contaminated by the BP oil spill, near Chauvin, La. - Eric Gay/AP

At the front line of the BP oil spill containment and clean-up, the primary soldier is the oil containment boom. There is some concern by some US lawmakers and local officials that that the booms aren’t working as intended along the US Gulf Coast.

“There is much more shoreline to protect than lengths of boom to protect it”, says Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. The booms break free and “It washes up on the shore with the oil, and then we have oil in the marsh, and we have an oily boom. So we have two problems.”

Oil containment booms are temporary floating barriers composed of plastic, fabric, and other buoyant materials. They may be held in place with drift anchors and have floats placed along their length to ensure that they are not accidentally broken up and sunk.

The Coast Guard indicates that there are about 3.1 million feet of coastal protection boom available in the US, and about 430,000 feet of heavier-duty boom intended for use in open oceans as is reported to the Christian Science Monitor.

Oil Boom Buoys

Beyond the booms themselves, Taylor Made has come forward with low drag buoys being used in service as oil boom buoys. The primary function of these buoys is to mark the boom. Booms must be tended to make sure they don’t drift away from the spot they are supposed to protect. These oil boom buoys help keep the booms visible and keep a drift anchor afloat.