The Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments plans to scale back its support for the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, a leading academic center studying gas-drilling in the Marcellus Shale, the Pittsburgh City Paper reports.
The foundation will continue its support of FracTracker, an online resource that enables concerned citizens to track the expansion and potential environmental impact of "fracking" in the region, although it is looking for a new partner to maintain the site in light of recent leadership changes at CHEC. The foundation also will continue to fund CHEC's research in areas such as water quality and risk factors for childhood autism.
According to Caren Glotfelty, who heads the foundation's environmental program, CHEC staffers had spent less time in recent months on the community outreach aspect of FracTracker. Moreover, some scholars within the university's Graduate School of Public Health, of which CHEC is a part, had argued that the center should be more focused on academic research. "It seemed pretty clear...that the advocacy side of this was not in their comfort zone as much as we would like it to be," said Glotfelty.
In April, CHEC director Conrad Volz announced he was leaving the university. Volz was replaced on an interim basis by Bernard Goldstein. Goldstein said that although Pitt staff will continue to furnish content for FracTracker, academic priorities will be paramount.
"Developing a program like FracTracker is appropriate for an academic institution," said Goldstein. "[But] I've always argued that our responsibility to act as faculty — beyond publishing things in a peer-reviewed journal — is related to whether there are other organizations that can effectively do the action. There may be people better able to keep and maintain FracTracker now that it's going."