Flare Station Malfunction Spews Flames, Smoke, Stink

SnapShot(15)The rusty leaning tower near the center of the park spit flames, smoke, and noxious odors at dusk on New Year’s Eve (handheld video below) and again on Friday evening January 8, according to witnesses.  The tower is the landmark of the flare station, a fenced-in set of equipment that collects, processes, and normally destroys the methane in the landfill gas that the buried garbage under the park generates.  When flames come out, it means there’s been a serious breakdown in the flare system.

Two Berkeley residents emailed me this morning:

I saw huge plumes of fire shooting out of the old smokestack – Methane Flare Station, in the Park. I could smell gas. It gave me and my friend headaches…. There was a strong, noxious odor at 6 p.m. this past Friday 1/8/16, and we saw flames burning high out of the smoke stacks at Cesar Chavez park at the waterfront.  I have asthma and environmental sensitivities and this made me very ill. I had a bad migraine and sore throat for many hours afterwards. …

Emission of flames, smoke, and odors from the top of the stack indicates a major malfunction or operator error in the flare station.  When the system is operating normally, the methane is burned inside the bottom of the stack at a temperature of 1600 degrees F and about 99 per cent of it is destroyed.   In normal operation you never see flames or smoke or smell odors.  I have been in the vicinity of the flare station dozens of times and never before noticed anything emitting from the stack other than, sometimes, the shimmering of hot air.  The system normally runs for a few hours each day and a park visitor will never notice that it’s working unless they step close enough to the fenced enclosure to hear the blowers running.

I reported the New Year’s Eve breakdown to the City’s Public Works Department and I forwarded the two Berkeley residents’ report of the January 8 incident today.  So far I have not had a reply.

Emission of flames, smoke, and odors from the flare station is a violation of the City’s permit from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and of other air quality regulations.

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