Residents in the Corpus Christi, Beaumont-Port Arthur, and Houston-Galveston-Brazoria areas may soon notice a white helicopter hovering over or near pipelines, oil and gas production facilities, and other industrial facilities, as part of an airborne study being conducted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Beginning the second week of August, the helicopter flights will be conducted over industrial areas in Harris, Jefferson, and Nueces counties. The study will conclude no later than August 21.

The specially equipped helicopter utilizes an infrared camera called the HAWK that can image volatile organic compounds and other hydrocarbon emissions invisible to the eye. VOCs are a class of compounds present in common things like gasoline and used as solvents or industrial chemicals. VOCs can combine with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight and light winds to form ground-level ozone.

When the camera detects possible VOC emissions, the technician on the helicopter will note the time and location and other information about the emissions source. The helicopter may hover or circle a particular location for an extended period of time to gather images and data on potential emission sources.

The TCEQ project is a follow-up to similar efforts conducted in the Texas Gulf Coast, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Tyler-Longview-Marshall areas to identify VOC sources that may potentially be unreported or under-reported. Identifying the emissions will assist the agency in improving the region's air quality by advancing the study of ozone formation and VOC sources, thus leading to improved air quality planning efforts, TCEQ officials said.