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Oil Containment Booms: Preventing Oil Spills from Spreading Out

On April 20 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded while drilling at the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. It resulted in the release an estimated 205.8 million gallons of crude oil before being capped shut on July 15, 2010, making it the largest oil spill accident in the world. This petroleum disaster caused critical damages to the Gulf's marine and wildlife habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated over 6,000 fish, 530 birds, 30 dolphins and 250 sea turtles that died in the spill. Around 150 turtles are Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species.

Fishing and tourism industries have also been affected by the continuous oil spill which impacted 327 miles of Louisiana's shoreline. BP (formerly known as British Petroleum), which managed the rig, was charged with 220 lawsuits over the spill. Most damages were filed by out-of-work fishermen and hotel and resort companies due to losses incurred due to the spill.

In the event of oil spills for both inland and coastal waters, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed the EPA Oil Spill Response Techniques Program. This program details fundamental strategies to contain and clean up oil spills, reducing the impact and minimizing the damage on the affected bodies of water.

Containment is the first important action to be done during oil spills. This strategy is used to keep the oil away from the unaffected waters, separating the affected area. To employ this strategy in the Gulf Oil Spill, oil containment booms were used.

Oil containment booms are floating PVC barriers which trap oil from spreading further into the surface. They also help oil to become more concentrated in their consistency to make it easier for absorbents, skimmers and wet vacuums to collect and remove them from water. These booms come in different shapes and sizes depending on various water or weather conditions. They have 18 to 48 inches of below water “skirt" to block oil from escaping beneath them. A longitudinal support, made of chains or cables, weighs down the skirt to make it more stable against wave motion.

Oil containment booms are emergency management equipment that prevent further damages these oil spills bring to marine life, wildlife habitation, industrial companies and individuals' health. Although they may not contain all spill contents in one area due to changes in the water. Strong winds and currents are uncontrollable factors that may cause the oil to escape from the booms. Even so, these oil booms are the last ones removed from the water to make sure that everything has been absorbed until the cleaning operation is done.

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