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Heinz Endowment Seeks New Home for FracTracker

The Heinz Endowment is looking for another university or entity to host and develop its Marcellus Shale research programs after an apparent falling out with the University of Pittsburgh.

Many of the endowment's programs address air and water quality issues, but of particular interest to the industry is FracTracker, an online tool used to analyze the environmental and community impacts from drilling. The program's website fractracker.org allows users to upload and download photos, maps and other geological information, as well as provide a new way to manage citizen advocacy programs.

Programs like FracTracker were cited recently by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee as being an integral part to building public confidence in the shale gas industry and hydraulic fracturing (see Shale Daily, Aug. 12).

Doug Root, a spokesman for the endowments program, told NGI's Shale Daily that the organization's relationship with the university and its Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) would continue despite the search for finding FracTracker a new minder.

"We have many pieces of grant funding out there with a large number of grantees conducting various aspects of environmental work related to the Marcellus," Root said Wednesday. "We still have pieces of work that we have commissioned with CHEC, and we're expecting to see those completed and we're excited about that work. We think that it's really important."

But Root said recent changes in leadership at CHEC and other concerns were bringing the organization to consider making a move.

"We believe FracTracker probably deserves some other entity to be managing it, given how much it has grown," Root said. "It's become a lot more labor intensive. An academic institution may not be the most appropriate place for it."

Conrad "Dan" Volz stepped down as CHEC director in April and his interim successor, Bernard Goldstein, followed suit this summer. Both men have recently criticized the industry and the process for regulating hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Root said Bruce Pitt, chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, is CHEC's new interim director.

Allison Schlesinger, a spokeswoman for the university's Graduate School of Public Health, told NGI's Shale Daily that Goldstein resigned because he is to be appointed an emeritus professor at the school at the end of September.

"It was a temporary assignment," Schlesinger said Wednesday. "He had too many things going on and had to step down. But he and [Pitt] were never intended to be permanent directors. We're still looking for a permanent director."

Schlesinger added, "The university will continue to research natural gas drilling and its impacts on public health. We don't have any plans to stop that research."

Asked if another university, a business or community group was being looked at as a future manager for FracTracker, Root said, "those options are all probably on the list. I know the program staff has been talking to folks who have been regular contributors, trying to figure out what the future work might be. There are a number of organizations or sectors that could be candidates. We're still trying to figure that out."

Root said a decision would need to be made soon. "We want to make sure FracTracker continues to contribute and to be a repository for good information that all stakeholders involved in Marcellus Shale issues can depend on."

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