Bayfield resident Erik Carlson noticed something peculiar when reviewing the footage of his front porch camera from the night of Dec. 30. There was a strange light beaming into the sky, and every few seconds, it would brighten the entire Bayfield neighborhood behind the Speedway on U.S. Highway 160.
Carlson posted the video to nextdoor.com with the caption: “Last night my front porch camera caught this beam of light shooting into the sky for hours and hours over again. It was also visible to my eyes. Does anyone have a clue what it was?”
One Bayfield resident commented under Carlson’s video that it looked like an old-fashioned search light, and another commented that it could be a tree strobe light effect that has been caught on camera before. Others who viewed the video believe the beam’s direction is coming from the sky, as if from outer space.
Other Bayfield residents who have lived in the area for a while pointed to the possibility of Carlson’s front porch camera catching footage of something far less supernatural coming from one of the local gas companies.
“That’s a pretty common thing down there,” said Upper Pine River Fire Protection District Fire Chief Bruce Evans. “It's called a flare.”
Evans said he and the fire department have been dispatched to the area on more than one occasion, when residents have looked out their windows and observed a flare, assuming it was a fire in progress.
“It can definitely look like that,” Evans said. “But it’s probably one of the high-pressure natural gas pumping stations. There's a pumping station down there on County Road 526 (the direction of the flare caught on Carlson’s camera).”
Gas can be flared for pressure release during drilling and flowback operations or system repair.
“It's designed to keep the pressures even in the line, so there's no fluctuations,” Evans said.
According to Baker Hughes Energy Industry’s website, a flare stack produces a fire as part of controlled burning taking place for a few typical reasons, such as part of testing to stabilize pressure and flow from a well, managing waste gas that can’t be captured or processed, or for safety or emergency situations to release pressure.
The flare stack’s main purpose is to combust vent gas – a large portion of which is methane, according to Baker Hughes. When methane is burned, it produces carbon dioxide and water, which are cleaner for the air.
If the methane is not burned, it will be released into the atmosphere as is.
Evans believes the cold temperatures Friday evening contributed to the pumping station’s continuous flaring throughout the night.
Despite the scientific explanation for the strange beam of light captured on Carlson’s front porch camera, Evan wishes the truth had been more supernatural.
“It could have been a great story about aliens,” Evans joked, “like that Tom Cruise movie (War of the Worlds) where those mechanical things shoot down in a beam of light from the alien ships. That would have made a great science fiction story for Bayfield, wouldn’t it?”