Heinz Endowments Pulls Pitt Marcellus Study

A major funder of Marcellus Shale research pulled out of a controversial project at the University of Pittsburgh recently. The Heinz Endowments told Pitt's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities not to use its funding to pursue Marcellus work. Marcellus Reporter Reid Frazier has followed this story and spoke with host Jennifer Szweda Jordan about it.

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JORDAN: A major funder of Marcellus Shale research pulled out of a project at the University of Pittsburgh recently. The Heinz Endowments, which traces its significant bounty back to the family of ketchup barons here in Pittsburgh, is, I should add, also the Allegheny Front's major source of long term funding. Now, our Marcellus Shale reporter, Reid Frazier, has followed this story and he's here to talk about it. Welcome.

FRAZIER: Hi, Jennifer.

JORDAN: So, the program in question is the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at Pitt's Public Health School. It's former director, Dan Voltz, left Pitt after clashing with the university higher-ups after he spoke out against the Marcellus Shale industry. Talk more about what the Heinz Endowments did.

FRAZIER: Well the Heinz Endowments had funded this center to do a lot of Marcellus Shale related public health work, like sampling stream water. They also developed this website called FracTracker that allowed people to follow the impacts of the industry, where the wells were, whether there any spills of blowouts in their neighborhood or in there town. And earlier this month the Endowments told the Pitt group to not use their funding on Marcellus related work, to rather focus on other public health related projects instead.

JORDAN: You talked to Caren Glotfelty, she's a Program Director for the Heinz Endowments, and you asked her about the defection of Dan Voltz. What did she say?

FRAZIER: Well, she said that Voltz's leaving the program had nothing to do with their taking the money and re-purposing it. She said that it really came down to an internal review of their own funding programs and they found that this wasn't the right fit for the university. In fact, I have some sound from an interview I just did a little while ago with her. You can hear her talk about that decision.

GLOTFELTY: You know research institutions like to do their work very slowly, deliberately. They like to publish things in peer-reviewed journals before they make them public. You know they're not really necessarily the right people to be at that leading edge of advocacy.

JORDAN: So, would you say that Heinz is backing away from the Marcellus issue?

FRAZIER: No, not really. Not at all. There's FracTracker, sort of the flagship that these programs will live on. They're not sure exactly where it will live, what organization will house it. And they have a number of other programs looking into the impacts of natural gas development.

JORDAN: Now the Heinz Endowments is led, of course, by Teresa Heinz, but there executive director since 2008 is Bobby Vagt. Now he's a former oil and gas executive, and he sits on the board of a pipeline company, called the El Paso Corporation. He was unavailable this week, but you asked Caren Glotfelty about this. What did she say?

FRAZIER: She says that Vagt has been very interested in getting to the bottom of the environmental impacts of Marcellus Shale. And she pointed out that under Vagt's stewardship the endowments has done a lot of Marcellus related work, like FracTracker and some of these other programs, and that Vagt's experience actually has helped the endowments' people in the program understand this very complicated and intricate business to understand what the real issues are. And actually here's a little bit about what she said today.

GLOTFELTY: He has taken a position from the very beginning that we are only gonna benefit from the development of this natural gas resource if we are fully aware of all the range of impacts: environmental, public health, community impacts. And we do everything in our power to prevent those impacts from happening.

JORDAN: Thanks very much, Reid.

FRAZIER: You're welcome.

JORDAN: You're listening to the Allegheny Front. I'm Jennifer Swzeda Jordan. I've been speaking with our Marcellus Shale reporter, Reid Frazier, about the Heinz Endowments decision to cut off funding for Marcellus Shale research at Pitt's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities. Reid got the chance to talk about this with the Heinz Endowments' Caren Glotfelty, and we heard from her too.