Dallas resident Daniel Koglin spotted a leak in a pipeline at Richland Chambers Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Daniel Koglin. 

March 13, 2024

Dallas resident Daniel Koglin was hiking at one of his favorite remote natural areas earlier this month when he stumbled upon a disturbing sight.

The nature photographer was visiting the 14,000-acre Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area, located about 90 southeast of Dallas, adjacent to Richland-Chambers Reservoir.

Off a gravel road in the Carl Fentress Unit, Koglin noticed a pipe from a gas well was leaking and an oily substance was drifting into the marshy surroundings.

The pipeline leak appeared to be an oily substance. Photo by Daniel Koglin. 

Richland Creek WMA was created in 1988 as mitigation after the 43,000-acre Richland-Chambers Reservoir, was completed in 1982.

"Part of the agreement was that they had to offset the loss of wildlife habitat caused by construction of the reservoir,” Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Matt Symmank told the Palestine Herald-Press.

Today, Richland Creek WMA is managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife. The wooded site is home to a variety of flora and fauna, such as white-tailed deer, beavers, American alligators and many rare birds, including the indigo bunting. Koglin said he’s even spotted a pair of nesting bald eagles.

The WMA is used for hunting and is popular with birders and naturalists, who've posted 814 observations on iNaturalist.

Koglin said though the area is an hour and half from Dallas, the unit can be "crowded" at times with nature lovers cruising in cars looking for wildlife.

A black-winged pelican enjoys the water at Richland Chambers Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Daniel Koglin.

“When I say crowded, I mean if I see one or two cars, I call that crowded,” he joked.

On March 6, he wasn’t sure what was leaking from the pipe he saw or who to call. There was no signage on the equipment with a name or phone number. 

On March 12, he went back and found the leak was worse. This time he thought he smelled a petroleum smell.

He called Tarrant Regional Water District, which owns and operates the nearby Richland-Chambers Reservoir. The lake is a source of drinking water for Tarrant and 10 other counties. While Koglin was at the site, three local TRWD staff members arrived to survey the scene.

Koglin said the TRWD representatives shared his concern. They explained that the property was under the jurisdiction of Texas Parks and Wildlife, which they contacted.

According to Lerrin Johnson, a TPWD communications officer, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department responded quickly and determined the broken pipe was leaking an oily saltwater mixture. They reported the leak to the company that owns the well, Southwest Operating based in Tyler.

An alligator drifts by at Richland Chambers Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Daniel Koglin.

“The local operator for Southwest Operating blocked in the leaking well to prevent any further damage and the site was evaluated,” Johnson said.

The Southwest Operating crew remediated the area in accordance with Texas Railroad Commission and TPWD Guidelines, she said.

Southwest Operating operates around 100 oil and gas wells in the area, according to ShaleXP, including about 30 in the Richland Creek WMA. The oil well has been active since 1993.

According to Southwest Operating owner John Musselman, a pumper truck drives by the wells daily. He admitted the crew missed the leak, which was located on a joint called a swage.

"We had replaced the flow lines with fiberglass so they won't rust out. Most of the lines are fiberglass or steel and have a PVC coating inside. The swage doesn't have a plastic lining," Musselman said, implying it was more susceptible to leaks.

After replacing the swage, Southwest Operating personnel contained the oily water in a berm, said Musselman. The water was sucked up with a water truck. Then an absorbant material made of coconut husks was laid out to absorb the remaining oil and then raked up. Musselman declined to respond to a follow up email from Green Source DFW as to what caused the rust coloring rimming the site, which can be seen in Koglin's photos and from satellite images.

Koglin expressed relief that the leak was resolved and applauded their quick action.

“They were Johnny-on-the spot,” said Koglin. 

He added that there might be more to investigate. 

“I’ve checked out several well sites in the area and they all show evidence of leakages.”

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