What is an Oil Boom?

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Oil booms in the Gulf Coast

If you’ve watched photos of the oil spill in the Gulf, you’ve seen a lot of orange and yellow sausage-like tubes floating in the water to help contain the oil.

These are oil booms. They are barriers used to contain oil spills in the ocean. Coastlines from Louisiana east to Florida's Panhandle are now cradled by these booms, which experts hope will help keep oil from washing onto the shore. Within 50 days of the spill, more than 750,000 feet of orange and yellow oil containment boom were floating just off the coastlines and beaches of the states along the Gulf of Mexico. That's more than 150 miles of boom.

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Oil booms and pelicans

How do they work? Because oil floats, the booms help round up and contain oil and keep it from expanding and contaminating beaches, islands, and wetlands. The boom has a weight, the floating tube, and a tall wall-like structure to help keep the oil contained. Unfortunately, during a storm, the oil can be pushed over the sides and escape. But experts are hoping that miles of boom will actually lessen the impact of the oil on our shores.