Heinz Endowments Losing Heads over Fracking Debate

Over the course of just a few months, the Heinz Endowments has seen the departure of several of its leaders. The president, the senior director of the environmental program, and the communications director all left their jobs between August and October 2013. The reason for the exodus is, likely, clashing views over the fracking debate. The changes have many grantees wondering where Heinz Endowments is headed and how these changes will affect grants going forward.

In the past, the Heinz Endowments has funded groups on both sides of the fracking debate. Over the past three years, Heinz has given out more than $10 million in drilling-related grants, many of which went to groups that oppose fracking. Yet in 2013, Heinz Endowments helped found the Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, a partnership formed with Chevron and Shell to explore voluntary rather than mandatory industry standards. The former president of Heinz Endowments, Robert Vagt, said when announcing the initiative that fracking "can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment."

The Heinz Endowments has received much criticism from the environmental world since launching the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. The recent shake-up could signal a new strategy, and grantees should be on the alert. Caren Glotfelty, the former director of the environmental program, left saying the endowments are "moving in a different direction with regard to the Environment Program." Rumor has it that Glotfelty clashed with Andre Heinz, board member and heir — and advocate for sustainable energy sources including wind, solar, and biofuels.

Some saw the Center for Sustainable Shale Development as a move to reach across the aisle and promote dialogue with industry; others saw it as a sellout to energy companies. It will be interesting to see how the Heinz Endowments proceeds into the future. So far the organization has kept quiet, leaving grantees to wonder whether funds will be funneled away from fracking groups altogether, or whether the organization would increase its funding to anti-fracking groups in an effort to regain the goodwill of the green community. Without a doubt, the loss of several heads within the organization will have an impact going forward.