The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 7, 2012

Pa. charities give $19M for gas-drilling research

PITTSBURGH — Citizens groups and nonprofits around the nation are asking questions about environmental and health impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and Pennsylvania charities are funding much of the debate, here and in other states.

Foundations from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh have provided more than $19 million for gas-drilling-related grants since 2009, according to an Associated Press review of charity data. The money has paid for scientific studies, films, radio programs, websites and even trout fishing groups that monitor water quality.

That’s led to expressions of gratitude from those who say state and federal governments aren’t doing enough on the issue, but also protests from some in the gas drilling industry, who claim there’s bias in the campaigns.

“We are trying to be balanced. We will sacrifice the environment for nothing,” said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments, a Pittsburgh charity founded in 1941.

The foundation, which is not affiliated with the company of the same name, has given more than $12 million to Cornell University, the Clean Air Council, the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, Duquesne University, the environmental law organization Earthjustice, the Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Trout Unlimited and others.

One scientist said some research wouldn’t have happened without the Heinz support.

“Foundation support has been critical as we and others who study water have worked to understand how energy and water resources affect each other in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Carnegie Mellon University professor Jeanne VanBriesen wrote in an email.

But the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a leading industry group, criticized what it sees as a “record of bankrolling organizations and institutions opposed to the safe development of job-creating American natural gas.”

“As clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale is creating tens of thousands of jobs, enhancing air quality, providing lower energy costs for consumers and helping to make our region a manufacturing hub once again, it’s ironic, if not disingenuous, that the Heinz Endowments claims to be focused on ‘solutions to challenges that are national in scope,’ ” said Steve Forde, a Shale Coalition spokesman.

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