A problem in the de-asphalting unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond last night led to some dramatic "flaring" in the skies over the East Bay, as KRON4 and others have reported. In order to shut down the unit and relieve fuel pressure, four emergency flares had to be burned off out of one of the smokestacks, and Chevron and Contra Costa County health officials have taken pains to assure everyone that these flares did not create poor air quality in the region. Also, what appeared to be smoke coming from the refinery was actually just water vapor, as ABC 7 reports. Nevertheless, everyone was freaked out and it certainly did bring back bad memories of 2012.
The initial flare died down around 8:30, but there were further, smaller flares until Contra Costa Hazmat insisted that no shelter-in-place order was necessary, however, disturbingly, they still said that those with sensitivities to poor air quality should stay indoors.
Here's what it looked like from ABC 7's Emeryville camera last night.
The situation, which was billed as averting a larger emergency, is sure to set residents on edge yet again about being so close to a potentially hazardous situation.
Here's the official word from Chevron spokesperson Heather Kulp:
We understand that the community has been concerned about the flaring activity. The flare is part of our safety system which enables us to safely shut down a unit. In flaring conditions, it is normal practice to release quantities of water vapor (steam) to assist with the flare quality. This sometimes can take on the appearance of smoke, but it is not smoke. There has been no impact to the community, and the refinery fence-line monitors are showing that the air quality is well within quality standards.
Health officials say they were monitoring the situation downwind, however environmentalists continue to insist that particulate matter and other toxins remain in the air for some time.
And, obviously, the situation was widely documented on Twitter and Instagram.
Flaring's a normal part of refinery ops. But huge flares that make the whole East Bay look like Blade Runner are new. pic.twitter.com/Fe4iJWSwFy— OK Council (@OKcouncil) December 19, 2014