The old flare station, built amidst controversy in 1989, is gone. A crew from Innovative Construction Solutions (ICS), aided by Hatton Crane Service, under the watchful eyes of Taylor Lancelot of the City of Berkeley and a representative from SCS Engineers, who built the system originally, took down the rusty leaning tower in a seven-hour session today under bright skies with a modest westerly breeze. Here are two videos chronicling the demolition: for folks in a hurry, a two-and-a-half-minute time lapse, and for folks who can’t get enough of watching construction crews operate big equipment (guilty!), there’s a half-hour video that runs (mostly) at normal speed.
As almost everyone knows by now, Cesar Chavez Park is a green cover over what was until 1983 the Berkeley city dump. Compostable refuse generates methane and other landfill gases. A group of scientists and environmentalists in the eighties proposed bioremediation methods to handle the gas, which already in the late eighties showed very low surface levels. But the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) branded bioremediation as “experimental” and threatened the City with heavy fines unless it installed a landfill gas extraction and flare system. More than forty gas extraction wells lie buried at various points in the park and on the grounds of the Hilton Hotel, also built on refuse fill. Underground pipes channel the gas to the flare station. The station consists of a condenser, which removes moisture, a pair of blowers that ram the gas into a high-temperature burner, and (above the burner) the stack, whose main function is to conceal the flame and channel the exhaust gas up above nose level. Flare stations are basically incinerators that convert methane, a highly harmful greenhouse gas, into carbon dioxide, also a greenhouse gas but much less harmful to the atmosphere than methane.
The 1989 flare station, despite the rusty exterior and a bit of Leaning Tower of Pisa ambiance, was good for another decade or two of service, with regular maintenance. It was retired not because it was breaking down but because it required a certain minimum gas flow to drive it, and the park just isn’t producing that much gas any longer. For the past few years the flare station has had to run at about half time, and the marginal flow has led to coughing and spitting fits (documented here), like an engine short on fuel. The new flare station, which is now operational, is of course more modern, more efficient, and a lot prettier to look at, but its main qualification for the job is that it’s much smaller and can run on less gas.
For several years now, gas levels at Cesar Chavez Park have hovered just above the regulatory threshold where BAAQMD might allow it to operate without a flare station. The case for bioremediation is certainly much stronger today than it was in 1989. But bioremediation is still not in the BAAQMD vocabulary. The City of Berkeley doesn’t have the expertise or the urge to challenge the BAAQMD bureaucracy. And so, the flare station is dead, but long live the new flare station. Three quarters of a million dollars’ worth of taxpayer money. How long will there be enough gas to drive the new device? How long before gas levels drop below BAAQMD’s benchmark?
For photo techies, I shot the time lapse with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60, a shirtpocket point-and-shoot. I would have liked to have shot the video with that excellent little camera as well, but I only have one. Video duties therefore fell to Google’s Nexus P6. It did a good enough job with the images, but its sensitive stereo mics were blown out by the wind, which only got stronger as the day warmed. No amount of audio noise reduction could salvage parts of the sound track. That’s why the half-hour MP4 has a background track of Muzak-type selections from a public domain audio bank. Enjoy!