Breaking down the Gulf oil spill cleanup effort

Carlene Peterson

There’s an evolving syndicate of companies and contractors hired by BP to address the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

As the oil continues to spew and consume wildlife and lands, an intricate lattice of workers and experts is attempting — using skilled knowledge and guesswork — to combat the growing problem. Here’s a quick dissection of one company’s role.


Reserve Marine Group is an emergency response and salvage operation. Its crews circle the globe for spills, crashes and other marine disasters. Crews put out chemical fires, drag wrecks out of the water and clean up the environment after it’s been damaged.


It’s kind of a one-stop shop. Reserve Marine employees build machinery and equipment. There are multiple staging areas where massive amounts of supplies are collected, organized and packed onto boats awaiting deployment. Reserve Marine employees are also the ones out on the water, laying boom to stop the oil and slurping up the oil to prevent it from hitting the shore.


9: Reserve Marine skimming boats deployed in the Gulf now.

100,000: Gallons of oil/water mixture most of the boats can hold at one time.

60,000: Gallons of oil most of the boats can haul back.

70,000: Feet of boom prepared for deployment at Reserve Marine’s Theodore, Ala., staging location.

64,000: Pounds of pressure it took to bust a boom chain outside the Mobile Bay shipping channel.

24: Hours a day the staging location runs.


Here’s an example of some of the other work being done by Reserve Marine in the Gulf.

• Transports booms to other vessels.

• Lays boom.

• Cleans the oil off boats’ hulls.

• Sucks up and separates the oil from the water.

• Hauls the oil back to the shore for processing.


Sipping up the slick

As the skimmers glide through the water, about 90 percent of what they pick up is water. About 10 percent is oil. That’s pretty typical. If the oil is substantially thicker, the skimmers can get 70 percent water, 30 percent oil. But that’s only when they’re lucky. Separating the oil out at sea, rather than hauling it all back, is much more efficient, said Frank Leckey, vice president of operations and technical manager. “We’re not bringing into port loads of oily water,” he said.

Busted booms

Harsh currents can wreak havoc on booms. Outside the Mobile Bay ship channel, Reserve Marine crew had laid out lines of boom anchored every 200 feet with 1,000-pound anchors. “The current became so strong, it was pulling the anchors to the pipe lines,” Leckey said. “Then we put on 7,000-pound anchors.” Still, the current was too much. “The boom broke,” he said. “So we had to pick it all up again.”

Syncing up

Coordinating all the groups BP has hired is a monumental task. Top talents from all over the world have swarmed the Gulf, and briefings turn into think-tank sessions. Trial and error rules the day. Along with Reserve Marine, the Coast Guard, BP representatives and environmental cleanup experts are among those who gather to plan the next course of action. “They give us tasks, and we collectively figure out a solution,” Leckey said.