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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Personal Narrative: Karen & Joe Brockman

Karen and Gary Brockman enjoy their tree-filled yard and their broad back porch. Karen becomes animated by telling stories of her lively art career, Gary’s lung transplant in 2015, and her fight against the gas wells and compressor stations ringing their small, tightly-knit community.

Their dog, Emily, enjoys free reign of the yard and its dense woods. When their grandchildren visit from a few streets away or from Baton Rouge, they help with yard work and play in the woods.

Karen’s art—celebrating her love of Florida manatees and Pittsburgh football—embellishes their home, inside and out.

Standing just a few feet from their back porch, they can see large segments of the Cibus and Imperial compressor stations, framed neatly by their house and trees. Natural gas company MarkWest built the plants the summer after Gary’s lung transplant. Nodding to the industrial facilities up on the hill, she points to her husband. “I’ve got a good excuse for fighting this: him!”

This view of the compressor station from the road, according to Karen, is as close as you can get to it. The station sits less than half a mile from their house. She wishes there were a way to get an aerial view or somehow see the whole footprint of the facility, which she suspects is still expanding. Why all the secrecy, she wonders. "What are they hiding in there?"

Gary stands on the porch, watching as Karen points out the view of the compressor. Despite their concerns about the nearby plant and the four gas wells within about a mile of their home, they have no plans to move. They have lived in this town all their lives, and in this home for 38 years. They are surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and a bevy of cousins.

About 900 residents populate the small borough. No wells or compressors sit within the borough limits, but rather, perch on the hills all around it. From Karen and Gary’s perspective, no one in this community has benefited from the gas development here. When asked if their neighbors have jobs with the industry, they told of the nearby RV parks where their son can’t get a spot to camp with his family because out-of-state well workers book them all. The jobs aren’t going to locals, they explained. “They’re all from Texas!”

Karen isn’t entirely satisfied with the results of her efforts to organize other neighbors. No one opposes what they are doing, she says, but they don’t take action, either. Some continually remind her, “You know, you can’t win this.” Karen says, "This isn’t about winning." It’s about standing up for themselves, their community, and for what’s right.

They take a stand by learning what they can about how the compressor and nearby wells impact their air. Reading a research paper on the health impacts of compressor stations launched Karen’s activism. After learning of the potential air emissions, the Brockmans monitor their indoor and outdoor air quality using the Speck air monitors pictured here.

Karen gets a call from the Environmental Integrity Project, whose attorneys will represent her and Gary in an upcoming public hearing. They are an official party in legal proceedings to oppose rezoning that would allow further gas development in the adjacent township. Even in this effort, Karen doesn’t talk about winning or losing. She views her participation as simple vigilance. “If we weren’t watching, what would they try to get away with?”

Karen’s dynamic enthusiasm and lifelong connection to the community motivated 50 of its residents to turn out for a public meeting on the initial proposal of the compressor station. When the plant was still under construction, the rain runoff caused an adjacent road to flood. When she reported the flooding, state officials realized that Mark West hadn’t yet been issued the proper permits to begin building. The company was forced to halt their premature construction by several months. Though Karen might not use these terms, her work in her community is replete with these kinds of meaningful victories.


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