Why Isn’t That Maine Boom Being Deployed to the Gulf?

By Dschabner

Jun 13, 2010 8:17pm

As the oil spill crisis has worsened, members of the public and media have seized upon various ways the government could be doing more to either plug the hole or alleviate the environmental damage.

One such story has described boom manufactured by an Auburn, Maine, packaging company called Packgen that’s been sitting in storage waiting to be delivered to the Gulf. Four weeks ago, in four days, Packgen manufactured 80,000 feet of boom, though neither the government nor BP had placed any orders for boom with his company.

John Lapoint III, the president of Packgen, told me Friday that a BP inspector visited his plant two weeks before, and was with him that day, and he didn’t understand why the holdup, given the need for boom.

“We have the capacity to manufacture 42,000 feet of boom per day,” Lapoint told me. “I figured they would need thousands of miles of boom given the magnitude of what’s going on in the Gulf.” He said he has enough raw materials to make half a million feet of boom.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has expressed frustration at BP taking its time to make assess the boom.

When I mentioned, in vague terms, Lapoint’s frustration, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen asked me to give him the information, which I did.

Over the weekend, Capt. Ron LaBrec from Coast Guard Public Affairs told me that according to a BP quality control inspector the PackGen boom did not pass an initial quality control test.

“Boom is subjected to great wear and tear when placed in the water and must be frequently tended,” LaBrec told me. “In order to retain its effectiveness boom must be of high quality. Once Packgen's boom passes inspection, the company can be considered as a source for supplying boom.”

LaBrec noted that in the meantime, “suitable boom is being identified and obtained quickly” with 459,000 feet of boom stored in the region in addition to the 2.24 million feet deployed.

So what was wrong with the PackGen boom?

“There were concerns with material and end connectors,” LaBrec said. “BP has inspectors who visit facilities and regularly test boom. In addition to testing boom from new suppliers, boom from existing manufacturers is also tested/inspected. The Coast Guard also inspects boom that we purchase from suppliers. It is important because poorly designed boom may not work as intended.”

Lapoint said the boom “not only meets” standards, “it exceeds it.”

“The only issue was the end connectors,” Lapoint said. So, he said, “we changed it to the universal connector, so there shouldn’t be any problems at all.”

But he remains frustrated. “I had two engineers go down to the Gulf. I was told it had to be the universal connector. I can’t tell you the miles of boom coming in from overseas that doesn’t have the universal connector.” He called the pushback against his boom “hogwash.”

There are specific standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, an international standards organization, that test methods “to determine strength and buoyancy characteristics for boom and end connectors,” LaBrec told me. “It is the duty of a responsible party to meet the protective requirements for boom, so it is prudent for a company to test the equipment so they know it will perform as designed.” (See below for the applicable cites from ASTM.)

Lapoint said his boom passed ASTM standards “by factor of two.” He says another BP inspector was by on Friday, one who seemed more receptive to his boom.

– Jake Tapper

The applicable cites from ASTM, per the U.S. Coast Guard.

(1)  F1093-99(2007) Standard Test Methods for Tensile Strength Characteristics of Oil Spill Response Boom: These test methods cover static laboratory tests of the strength of oil spill response boom under tensile loading.

(2)  F2682-07 Standard Guide for Determining the Buoyancy to Weight Ratio of Oil Spill Containment Boom: This guide describes a practical method for determining the buoyancy to weight (B/W) ratio of oil spill containment booms.

(3)  F962-04 Standard Specification for Oil Spill Response Boom Connection: Z-Connector:  This specification covers design criteria requirements, design geometry, material characteristics, and desirable features for oil spill response boom connections. These criteria are intended to define minimum mating characteristics and are not intended to be restrictive to a specific configuration.

(4)     F2438-04 Standard Specification for Oil Spill Response Boom Connection: Slide Connector:  This specification covers design criteria requirements, design geometry, material characteristics, and desirable features for oil spill response boom slide connections. These criteria are intended to define minimum mating characteristics and are not intended to be restricted to a specific configuration.  It defines the geometry required to mate with typical Universal slide connectors or Specification F 962 connectors with web thickness up to 0.3 in. Some very heavy-duty or PVC connectors may exceed this dimension and not be compatible.

(5)  F2084-01(2007)e1 Standard Guide for Collecting Containment Boom Performance Data in Controlled Environments: This guide covers the evaluation of the effectiveness of full-scale oil spill containment booms in a controlled test facility.  It involves the use of specific test oils that may be considered hazardous materials. It is the responsibility of the user of this guide to procure and abide by the necessary permits for disposal of the used test oil.

(6)  F2152-07 Standard Guide for In-Situ Burning of Spilled Oil: Fire-Resistant Boom: This guide covers a set of criteria to evaluate the performance, material characteristics, and essential features of fire-resistant oil spill containment boom.  It covers two types of fire-resistant oil containment boom: those that are intrinsically fire-resistant through the use of fire-resistant materials, and those that provide fire-resistance through the use of coolants. It is one of four related to in-situ burning of oil spills. Guide F 1788 addresses environmental and operational considerations, Guide F 1990 addresses ignition devices, and Guide F 2230 addresses burning in ice conditions.

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