Gulf oil spill sparks boom at Cooley

In a typical year, the Cooley Group would churn out between 30,000 and 40,000 linear yards of a membrane the company calls Coolthane, a highly durable material designed to contain hazardous spills. For the last two months, it has been producing 20,000 to 25,000 yards a week for customers working to contain the Gulf oil spill. More

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FOCUS: MANUFACTURING

Gulf oil spill sparks boom at Cooley

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
TED GIGUERE works a forklift at the Cooley Group. Pallets hold orange rolls that are part of oil-containment booms.
PHOTO COURTESY AMERICAN POLLUTION CONTROL
LINE OF DEFENSE: Louisiana-based American Pollution Control Corp. deploys oil booms off the Alabama coast to contain the oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The material for the booms is made by the Cooley Group.
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Posted 7/12/10

In a typical year, the Cooley Group would churn out between 30,000 and 40,000 linear yards of a membrane the company calls Coolthane, a highly durable material designed to contain hazardous spills.

But this is not a typical year.

For the last two months, the Pawtucket manufacturer’s factory on Esten Avenue has cranked out 20,000 to 25,000 linear yards a week for customers that in turn are assembling the membrane into miles upon miles of floating oil booms.

The final destination: the massive oil spill that is fouling the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.

And with more than 1 million gallons of oil estimated to be leaking every day from an underwater well since an oil rig exploded and sank in April, the orders keep coming.

Cooley, which employs about 200 people at its headquarters in Pawtucket and plants in Cranston and in South Carolina, has shifted to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule to handle the increased demand.

Meanwhile, the privately held company said it doubled its 2009 sales figures in the first five months of this year.

“This has become a top priority,” said Darius Shirzadi, Cooley’s product manager for engineered membranes.

The manufacturer now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of profiting from the tragedy in the Gulf, where the oil slicks threaten aquatic life and the livelihood of countless residents.

“This has been good for business,” Shirzadi acknowledged. “But obviously it’s a horrible situation, probably one of the biggest environmental disasters this country has ever seen. It could be never-ending. It could go on for months and years.”

Cooley certainly isn’t the only company benefiting from the increased demand for oil booms as workers struggle to contain the spreading plumes.

In a rush to rein in the oil spill early on, the oil company BP hired contractors who deployed readily available booms made from inexpensive vinyl manufactured in China and elsewhere. The problem, according to Cooley: Most vinyl booms aren’t designed for long-term use, leading to failures.

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