Marcellus Shale

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s the Green Grok!

A few weeks back my wife called to say a helicopter had earlier landed in our neighbor’s backyard.  This would have been unusual anywhere, of course — but especially so in a residential area of Honesdale.  Being curious, we crossed the street to find out what happened.

As it turns out, according to our neighbor, his unexpected drop-in guests were from Duke University, of all places — and were apparently in the area to do some “research” on natural gas.  My neighbor, who is unfailingly polite, had given them a ride down to a local restaurant for a meeting.  Who they were, what that meeting was about, and why they had decided to air-drop themselves into our community — he didn’t know and couldn’t say. And neither could we, until we came across a puzzling post on the Internet the other day by someone who refers to himself as the “Green Grok.”

Green Grok's Red Helicopter
Green Grok’s Red Helicopter

The post itself, which appeared on the website of Bill Chameides, the Dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, is available here. Reading Mr. Chameides’ post provides all the explanation needed for this strange behavior. According to the post, he was one of the occupants of the mystery helicopter and came back to town a couple of weeks later to continue his discussions.  Chameides is, apparently, the kind of guy who thinks he doesn’t  need anyone’s permission and requires a helicopter consuming about 25 to 30 gallons of fuel per hour to ferry him about — because, well, he’s just so darned smart and Duke University is just so darned important.

Frankly, the Chameides post made my blood run cold until I realized I wasn’t the blue blood here — he was.  Chameides’ condescending remarks were the kind of statements we’ve come to expect from certain parts of academia where political correctness is the first order of every day, arrogance is the rule of the road and special-interest agendas govern and direct the research.  He titled his post “A Visit With Some Folks in Fracking Land,” which pretty well tells the reader what is to follow.  It’s bad enough when our opponents resort to slang terms for a single part of the process to inaccurately and derisively label an entire industry, but you’d think a man who’s the dean of a respected department at a respected university would be a bit more careful and precise with the language he calls upon.

Reading over the Green Grok’s post, I found this description of his meeting with some folks from the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (emphasis added):

We dined with a group of about 20 from the alliance. And they were upset and angry. They said the contract they signed is a model for partnering with gas companies drilling on private land. Among other things, it allows for continuous water testing and other environmental safeguards.

But their plans were frustrated by a temporary fracking moratorium in the Delaware River watershed by the Delaware River Basin Commission while it studies the impacts, a move the alliance is none too happy about. According to our dinner guests, they felt they were being deprived of much needed income by fracking opponents who were, at best, “uninformed.”

The group’s website claims that “the safety of hydraulic fracturing is well documented, with zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination in 1 million applications over 60 years.” I guess the accuracy of that statement depends upon what you mean by “confirmed.” More on that later, but that attitude set up an interesting dynamic at dinner. You see, some of our faculty, including one in our group, had recently published a paper on groundwater contamination near fracking sites in Pennsylvania. The folks from the alliance knew about the Duke study (one even brought a copy with him) and they were none too happy about it. One of the folks at the dinner opined that the paper was an affront to their community and before we published papers like it we should first consider its impact on people. Another allowed that that was all water under the bridge but he hoped that we would be more responsible about what we write in our future science papers.

I can tell you that I bristled at this as well as the notion that anyone who opposed fracking is “uninformed” and I am sure I was not the only one. But our mantra on these kinds of trips is that we come to listen and not debate. We let it be.

The alliance’s fundamental position is that it’s their land, they did their due diligence to protect themselves and the environment, they’re in line to earn significant amounts of money, and no one should be allowed to prevent them from going ahead. It’s a position with merit, after all it is their land. But property rights only go so far. If fracking on their land pollutes the Delaware, which a whole lot of people downriver depend upon, then I’d say they don’t have the right to frack.

Blue Blood Devil
Green Grok Giant

The way this is written, one gets the impression that Chameides left the meeting with my neighbors congratulating himself on his tolerance of the locals.  Moreover, he just can’t seem to help himself with that whole language thing.  He gets in his “fracking” slang wherever he can, as if it were some kind of schoolyard taunt.  He dismisses the challenges to the Duke University study as nothing more than my friends’ complaints about its “impacts on people,” portraying them as embittered folks who just weren’t willing to accept his science.  I don’t think so.  I’m quite sure, in fact, they complained about the selective well testing Duke did and its taking of funding from the Park Foundation to do that organization’s bidding with the study, points he chose to ignore.

Chameides also included a link to the Duke study in his post, of course, and indicated it was a study of groundwater contamination near hydraulic fracturing sites, contrasting this with the “claims” of NWPOA that “the safety of hydraulic fracturing is well documented, with zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination in 1 million applications over 60 years,” as if to prove NWPOA just didn’t know the facts.  Well, let me channel Warner Wolf here for a moment.  “Bill, if you were betting on this not so clever juxtaposition fooling anyone, you lost.”

Of course, Bill must know by now the Duke study stated clearly “we found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids.”  He also knows the truth of the NWPOA statement, confirmed by no less than Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator.  Finally, he knows, too, the Duke study was equivocal on the issue of methane migration, using words such as “likely” and “might be possible” and even then relied upon data from seven Lockhaven Formation wells to get high methane readings that distorted the average without including any control samples from the same formation.  In sum: the Duke study was deeply flawed and didn’t prove any contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing, despite the Grok’s attempt to draw a connection in his readers’ minds.

He then rhetorically marches off to proclaim property rights don’t matter if hydraulic fracturing “pollutes the Delaware, which a whole lot of people downriver depend upon.”  Bill may have a science degree, but he obviously doesn’t know much about the law, because the burden isn’t on property owners to prove they won’t pollute when they meet the standards, and the standards have already demonstrated it can be done safely.  No, the burden of proof is on those who would restrict property rights to demonstrate the harm that would justify such restrictions and no has been able to do it – not Bill, not Duke, not EPA and not anyone else.

It’s all speculation. The Green Grok surely knows this and, as for his attempts to put a facade on that speculation and give it a scientific imprimatur?  Well, you be the judge.  This is the kind of stuff holding up the adoption of already developed DRBC regulations by politicians who just love demagoguing the issue at the expense of politically unpowerful landowners.  That’s the message Bill should have taken away, but I’m not sure he was he listening that well.

What’s A Grok, Anyway?

This brings us to an essential question – what the heck is a “grok” anyway?  I’m just a farm boy from Wayne County and we never used terms like that growing up here.  I found (well, think I found) the answer at, not so trusty, Wikipedia where it is described as follows (emphasis added):

To grok is to intimately and completely share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity. Author Robert A. Heinlein coined the term in his best-selling 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land. In Heinlein’s view, grokking is the intermingling of intelligence that necessarily affects both the observer and the observed. From the novel:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathise or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment”. Other forms of the word include groks (present third person singular), grokked (past participle) and grokking (present participle).


In an ideological context, a grokked concept becomes part of the person who contributes to its evolution by improving the doctrine, perpetuating the myth, espousing the belief, adding detail to the social plan, refining the idea or proving the theory.

May we conclude the Green Grok is so ingrained in his subject he is no longer an independent observer but part of what is being observed?  It would seem to mean a grok is no longer a scientist, but an advocate who pretends to be a scientist.  Come to think of it, there is a whole lot of grokking going on among the anti-natural gas crowd.  And, that part about contributing to the evolution of the doctrine, perpetuating the myth and espousing the belief (as opposed to the facts) – does that resonate or what?  I know what I believe after reading this description, namely that Chameides is fully entitled to call himself the Green Grok.  Indeed, he may be the Green Grok Giant!

Regardless, what disturbed me so much was the exploitation of everyone he talked to in his post, even to the point of using the Mannings to go after WPX for a problem he never bothered to explain is most likely a mechanical issue caused by repeated flooding.  He also described Susquehanna County residents as “blasé” about natural gas development (tell that to the, literally, thousands of residents who enthusiastically participated in the Cabot picnic last year) and then dropped this little piece of nonsense on the table, the same way he dropped his helicopter into my neighbor’s yard (emphasis added):

As for those who claim that you just cannot document that drilling and fracking have contaminated people’s well water, I maintain that they’re either intentionally or unknowingly sticking their heads in the sand. I have a hard time believing that all the water problems I heard about during my visit were either coincidence with nothing to do with drilling or were made up by people trying to make a fraudulent buck. It’s pretty clear to me that at least sometimes — perhaps because of mistakes and/or carelessness — fracking leads to water contamination that can really set a family or a community back.

Imagine what life would be like, having, like the Mannings, to bring your drinking water into the house daily by the jug-full. Imagine the effects to your property value and your economic well-being.

This is after he used this sentence “Despite rumors that the gas company working in the area had been cited twice for violations (in the casings used to prevent contamination and improper preparation for drilling through the aquifer), nothing can be done for the Fallons or their neighbors according to state officials since manganese is a natural component of groundwater.”  “Despite rumors”?  Is this guy kidding?  Does he think we’re all THAT stupid? Does he think state agencies should act on rumors?  Does he think anecdotal evidence is enough?  Does he think his mere assertions and belief (“I maintain …”, “It’s pretty clear ..”, etc.) are justification for action?  Apparently, he does.  But you know what?  That’s bull — “Durham Bull” — from the Green Grok himself.

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