Business Booms For Oil Containment Maker

fromWSHU

Among the tools BP has been using to respond to spill in the Gulf of Mexico are floating booms designed to contain the oil. The Connecticut company that invented oil containment booms is working non-stop to meet the huge demand. It hasn't been this busy since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

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Boom making is booming in Connecticut. It's what you might call an unintended consequence of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That's because BP is using floating booms to contain the oil, and right now there are about 246 miles of those booms spread throughout the gulf. As Craig LeMoult of member station WSHU reports, one company that makes the booms is working nonstop to meet the huge demand.

CRAIG LEMOULT: SlickBar in Seymour, Connecticut, was the first company to make oil containment booms. And they've been at it for the last 50 years. The booms are pretty simple. They're kind of like big versions of those foam water noodles you see in swimming pools, with a curtain hanging off it a foot under the water. Because most oil floats, the booms act as a barrier to keep it from spreading. The spill in the gulf has created a huge demand for the booms.

Unidentified Man: I just started today.

LEMOULT: This newly employed worker is rolling up a sheet of foam into four-foot logs with a six-inch diameter. Another worker uses a gas flame to prepare the 100-foot length of polyester fabric that will wrap the foam. A chain is fed through the polyester fabric. As the foam logs go into the fabric, they're connected by a webbing, so they look like huge sausage links. Steve Riley is the president of SlickBar.

Mr. STEVE RILEY (President, SlickBar, Incorporated): This is a hundred-foot section, and there's thousands and thousands more of them, either there or on their way.

LEMOULT: Felix Gonzalez has worked at the factory for 34 years. He says he's made thousands of oil containment booms in that time. And he says the last time it was anywhere near this busy was after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

Mr. FELIX GONZALEZ (SlickBar, Incorporated): It was pretty heavy with the Exxon Valdez, but this time it's really - it's bigger than that one.

LEMOULT: After the Valdez spill, the federal government mandated that oil companies have a contingency plan ready in case of an accident. After that law was passed, SlickBar's sales doubled. There are several different kinds of boom. Some is meant for far off shore. Some of it is used when the oil is lit on fire to burn it away.

But Steve Riley says SlickBar is focused on making booms that are used to protect the coastline. The company has either shipped or has orders for a quarter-million feet of boom for this spill. And while that's good for SlickBar, Riley says he never would've wished for this.

Mr. RILEY: Well, you feel kind of helpless in terms of the volume they're looking for. I mean, you're literally trying to cover from the Texas border of Louisiana all the way over around to the Keys.

LEMOULT: SlickBar is the original manufacturer of oil containment booms, and it's still one of the leading companies in the field. But a number of other companies are also busy reacting to the crisis in the gulf. This kind of boom usually sells for about $10 a foot. But with overtime and difficulty getting raw materials, the price is now up to double that.

Commander JOE HIGGINS (U.S. Coast Guard): We are using all the boom that we can get.

LEMOULT: That's Commander Joe Higgins of the U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans.

Commander HIGGINS: You can never have enough boom in that you can stage it and the more you have, the more you can stage to effectively deploy it.

LEMOULT: Steve Riley, of SlickBar, says they're starting to get orders from companies in other parts of the world who are seeing what's happening in the gulf and are worried they're not ready if it happens to them. And SlickBar has now added another production line to help it meet the demand.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Connecticut.

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