COALINGA, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Starting around November 17, and lasting up to a month, a helicopter towing a large hoop from a cable will be making low-level flights over the areas of the western San Joaquin Valley in Fresno, Kings, and Kern counties near Coalinga, and the Pyramid Hills according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Residents in those areas may see a low-flying helicopter towing a large hoop hanging from a cable. USGS scientists will use the data to improve their understanding of groundwater salinity and below-ground geology to better understand groundwater conditions near California’s oil fields.

The large hoop that the helicopter will tow is a sensor that measures small electromagnetic signals. These signals can be used to map geological features like aquifers (water-bearing rocks), below the Earth’s surface. It is important to note that this scientific instrument does not pose any health risk to people or animals.

The USGS study will be conducted by SkyTEM under a USGS contract with Woolpert. The helicopter will be operated by Sinton Helicopters that are trained for low-level flying required for the surveys. They will work with the FAA to make sure that the flights are safe and are in accordance with U.S. law.

The USGS also says that the surveys will only be conducted during daylight hours. Also, they will not be occurring over populated areas and the helicopter will not directly overfly buildings at low altitudes.

Once the survey is complete, the USGS scientists will review and process the data. The datasets will be used together with existing groundwater measurements to better understand groundwater salinity and the shape of the shallow aquifers across the study area. All results and data will be made available to the public at no cost.

This work is part of the U.S. Geological Survey California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program. As well as the California State Water Resources Control Board Oil and Gas Regional Monitoring Program.