BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection sent 13,900 feet of containment booms and 40 anchors to the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday to aid in efforts to clean up the BP oil spill.
In Bangor the department oversaw the transfer of 8,025 feet of booms to two flatbed trucks owned by East Baldwin-based L.E. Seidl Jr. Trucking, which BP has hired to transport the booms to the gulf. The rest of the booms left from Portland.
The booms are orange lengths of tubing made of “impervious material such as PVC” that can be inflated with foam, air or plastic to float in water and act as a barrier to oil, according to a DEP press release.
They will be used to exclude or deflect oil from areas in the gulf, said Thomas Smith, an oil and hazardous materials specialist for the DEP.
British Petroleum reportedly contacted Maine officials about two weeks ago and requested the booms. An agreement the department signed with BP on Wednesday requires the company to replace them within two years.
The DEP still has 30,000 feet of booms left available in Maine in case of a local incident with more owned by private contractors. The department uses some of the booms about every month in Maine for incidents such as sunken lobster boats, Smith said.
“We feel there is sufficient boom should there be an incident,” he said.
Maine officials had expected the Gulf Coast states to ask for the booms, but currently only BP has requested anything from Maine.
Louisiana and Florida asked for a list of available relief equipment and personnel through an Emergency Management Assistance Compact request sent out to all the states on April 30. Maine provided its list, but Louisiana and Florida never followed up with a request for any of the materials or personnel, according to Barbara Parker of the DEP.
In addition to the booms, the department offered oil skimmers, temporary storage devices, work boats, an air compressor, pumps and personnel.
“We sort of thought in a very short period of time the states would be asking for us to come and help them, but Louisiana and Florida have not,” Parker said.
Instead, BP contacted Maine and asked for the booms. The department agreed and took the booms off its EMAC list in preparation for their transportation to the gulf.
Parker told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday that the DEP was frustrated it hadn’t been asked for assistance. On Thursday, after BP’s request, she said she “couldn’t be happier that we’re sending material down there to help with the response effort.”
BP officials, who spoke to DEP officials on Wednesday, have not asked for any equipment or personnel besides the booms, but it’s possible the company will in the near future, according to Donna Gormley, a DEP spokeswoman.
The booms being sent from Bangor to the Gulf Coast are of three types: 4,000 feet of general purpose harbor booms; 3,025 feet of fence booms, which are used to deflect rather than contain oil; and 1,000 feet of open water booms that are more sturdily constructed.
The booms range in age from 10 to 15 years, but they are all in “perfect operating condition,” according to Smith. It will take about 48 hours to transport the booms to the gulf, according to George Davis, one of the two drivers who helped load the booms onto the two trucks Thursday.
Smith said he isn’t frustrated it took BP this long to request the equipment and he wouldn’t want to second-guess the logistics of the cleanup efforts in the gulf.
“Logistics take a long time” for such a large spill, Smith said.
He said the effectiveness of the booms depends on the conditions in which they are used, but they work best in calm waters.
“There’s no such thing as high-speed oil” cleanup, Smith said.
The department separated and stored the deflated booms in warehouses in Portland and Bangor to arrange for BP to pick them up. The pieces were loaded on pallets onto the two trucks and then tied down with a covering on Thursday morning. BP paid for the transportation charges, according to Smith.
The booms are bound for an Amelia, La., depot, according to Gormley, where the U.S. Coast Guard, BP and Louisiana officials will determine how they will be used. Because of the agreement the company signed with the DEP the booms have to be used in the Gulf of Mexico.
The DEP uses the booms in Maine for such incidents as lobster boats or other vessels sinking. Smith said the department used a lot of booms in the Julie N. Spill in Portland Harbor after a tanker struck the Million Dollar Bridge in 1996 spilling 179,634 gallons of oil into the harbor.
Some experts and Maine officials have raised concerns that some oil from the Deep Water Horizon spill could reach Maine through the Gulf Stream, but Parker said that if any did it would be “extremely” diluted by the time it did, and that the Gulf Stream is “hundreds of miles off the coast of Maine.”
“We have a really good oil spill preparedness program here, but it’s for oil that we can find and detect,” Parker said.
Any oil that reaches Maine won’t have a detectable impact to the state’s marine ecosystem, Parker said.
Maine conducted a “Spill of National Significance” exercise in March involving 400 people and with the assistance of Shell Oil. The exercise was designed to prepare Maine agencies for disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.