Personal Narrative: The Joseph Family
The Joseph’s story is one of forced decisions. They question whether they can stay in a community rapidly changing from gas development. Theirs is also a story of respect--as an unfulfilled promise from the local gas industry, in sharp contrast to how this family shows respect for their land and community.
The Joseph family has a strong connection to two homes. The first was built in 1853 with crooked walls and no indoor plumbing. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph raised their children there; it’s now the home of their youngest daughter. The Josephs built the second house in 2014 as their retirement home. Now, they and their daughter debate whether they can stay in either place.
In 2013, nearby fracking—along with traffic and negative interactions with the gas company—prompted Mr. and Mrs. Joseph to build their retirement home and move from the 1853 house. Not long after, the gas company, Antero, built this compressor station about ½ mile from their new home.
The Long Compressor Station sits about a half mile from their home. Many neighbors, like these, live just as close or closer. But the Josephs describe the majority of their community as merely “peeking out from behind the curtains” when it comes to getting actively involved. However, some neighbors quietly share with the family their frustrations with the compressor, telling them that “pictures rattle on the walls” of their house when the engines are running hard.
On a driving tour around their area, the family points out local landmarks and painful new changes, like the right-of-way for the coming Rover Pipeline, seen thru the car windows. The family puts gas development in the context of the Bible, which they feel directs them to be “stewards of the land.”
At the compressor stations and well pads that abound in the vicinity of their home, signs command gas workers to RESPECT LOCAL RESIDENTS. Mrs. Joseph wondered outloud, “Respect… Do they even know what that means?”
The driving tour comes to a halt to rescue a turtle from the center of the road. The family shows equal compassion for wild animals as they do domestic, telling sweet stories of a tiny newborn cow they named “Twiggy,” and heart-wrenching ones of a pet horse who they were forced to put down after he became helplessly mired in the soft mud along a gas pipeline in their pasture.
One way the Josephs show their deep respect for the land they live on is through attentive observation of its living things. Up and down the nearby lake, the lily pads are in bloom. It seems that only those lilies closest to the wellpad on the hill haven’t bloomed, and their leaves are curled upward, with brown edges. For Mrs. Joseph, they bring to mind the curled, brown, and stunted leaves of her hosta plants around her yard.
Mr. Joseph looks up at the bizarre shape of a 40-year old pine tree at the 1853 home. The side facing out--closest to the compressor station--has started to turn brown and die. The hostas in their flower beds have always drawn compliments, but this year, most are smaller than years prior, and have a rusty tinge to their curled leaves. They don’t necessarily attribute the plants’ condition to the compressor station, but for now simply observe the changes with concern.
From the squirrels bounding around their bird feeder, to the small toads populating their flowerbed, the Josephs take visible delight in the local wildlife. When the little amphibians eluded the camera, Mrs. Joseph gently scooped one up for a photo.
Some of the Josephs' neighbors occupy the porch at the “local watering hole.” Mrs. Joseph noted that it’s the kind of community where people recognize each other. But nowadays when they drive by, “people don’t wave as much as they used to.”
The Joseph family already makes use of the tools at their disposal to learn as much as they can about the fracking impacts around them, like this online map of gas wells. They are excited and inquisitive about tool new to them, the Speck air monitor.
The family has offered to serve as the central point of contact for a group of neighbors who want to join them in air monitoring. They will distribute the monitors to at least three additional homes and collect the monitors at the end of the 32-day testing period. As they discuss the plan, they share touching photos and stories of a beloved neighbor—“like a grandfather”—who passed away.
This one community has seen dramatic, drilling-related changes since 2012, like pipelines, well pads, the compressor, and a fracking-triggered earthquake. They have witnessed social effects, like the departure of families whose homes were bought out by the gas industry, and the changing meaning of “respect.” Like any place, the community will continue to change over time. Meanwhile, the Josephs debate whether they should stay or go. Perhaps the community air monitoring project they will lead can help them and others in making this difficult decision.