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Methane detection helicopter flying over Orcutt draws attention from residents

A Bell JetRanger helicopter flies over Orcutt Tuesday morning conducting a methane-detection operation for SoCal Gas. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

ORCUTT, Calif. -- A low-flying helicopter drew plenty of attention from Orcutt residents on Tuesday.

The aircraft is part of a SoCal Gas safety operation to detect and map any methane emissions over the company's infrastructure.

The Bell JetRanger helicopter could been seen all morning long flying as low as 500 feet around most of the Orcutt area.

"I saw the helicopter today doing its thing and it looked kind of interesting," said resident Tommi Berry. "I saw it on social media that it was going to be out tracking."

Throughout many Orcutt neighborhoods, residents could be seen peering into the sky as the aircraft whizzed by and flew back and forth in a “lawnmower” pattern.

Berry said as an Orcutt resident, she's used to activity up in the sky since the town is so close to the Santa Maria Public Airport.

"We get a lot of flights from the airport, so we're used to airplanes flying by, so the helicopter is not bad at all," said Berry. "I like watching all the aircraft that come by, so just nice to see it up there."

SoCal Gas announced several days ago it is planning flights this week throughout Orcutt and Santa Maria. The company also emphasized there is no threat to the community.

"I think it's awesome," said resident Cindy Bolding. "Something like that can be extremely dangerous if it goes undetected and blows up."

Bolding said she had no idea what the helicopter was doing and worried it might have something to do with law enforcement.

"When they start flying like that, round and round, you're thinking they're looking for somebody," said Bolding.

When told what the nature of the flight was, Bolding was relieved to hear the aerial activity was not related to any kind of police operation.

"We're happy it's not law enforcement helicopters," said Bolding. "We're happy it's something that's going to help our environment."

A SoCal Gas release explained the detection of methane emissions is another way to keep the communities safe and it part of the company's SB 1371 emissions reduction program.

The aerial operation will continue around the Santa Maria Valley and other parts of the Central Coast throughout this week. Flights will take place between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Article Topic Follows: Environment & Energy

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Dave Alley

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