The Heinz Endowments — a Pittsburgh-based philanthropic organization that has given millions to both supporters and opponents of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) — has caused a stir with its abrupt dismissal of its environmental program director, and indications it will be going in new directions.

In an email, Caren Glotfelty, who joined the charity in 2000, told colleagues that her last day at work would be Thursday. She did not elaborate on her dismissal, other than to say that “changes are taking place” at the organization. Glotfelty said Bobby Vagt would serve as acting program director and Phil Johnson would assist with the transition.

“There has been a very recent change in my employment status…I only learned about it late last week,” Glotfelty said. “While this news will naturally create feelings of uncertainty for the future of your individual and collaborative efforts, I know Bobby and Phil will have your best interests at heart.”

In a separate statement to the media, Glotfelty said “the board has indicated that it is moving in a different direction with regard to the environment program, and it is clear to me that this is the right moment to leave.” Again, she did not elaborate.

Carmen Lee, spokeswoman for the Heinz Endowments, which was originally funded by the founders of Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co. during the last century, declined to comment on the matter. According to Heinz Endowments’ records, the charity awarded 19 grants totaling $2.37 million to universities and organizations for a variety of Marcellus Shale studies and directives from 2009 to 2012, the latest year records were available.

Glotefelty’s dismissal triggered speculation over the charity’s direction on fracking. The Heinz Endowments joined a diverse coalition to form the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) in March (see Shale Daily, March 21). The CSSD’s industry participants are Chevron Corp., Consol Energy Inc., EQT Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell plc. The William Penn Foundation, another charity, is also a member.

“I’m sure if there is any implication for us, Heinz will make that clear,” CSSD President Andrew Place said Tuesday of Glotfelty’s departure. “We have no further insight than anybody else out there has.”

Beverly Braverman, executive director of the Mountain Watershed Association (MWA), told NGI’s Shale Daily that she was “distressed” by the news. “She’s been a friend of the environment and a champion of small grass-roots groups for years,” Braverman said Tuesday. “And while I think that our current program officer there is also a champion of the environment and small groups like ours, it’s been long relationship and I’m very sorry to see it end.

“I hope that the reason that she’s leaving is not because of a shift in policy surrounding the Marcellus gas activities that are going on in the state, and I hope that it is not because of the Heinz Endowments’ support of the CSSD. But I honestly do not know.”

Braverman added the Heinz Endowments have donated millions to small organizations like the MWA to help communities handle Marcellus Shale development, but by her calculation only gave hundreds of thousands to the CSSD.

“[It] seems like a small amount to invest, but it’s very concerning to our organization that this might indicate a shift in policy that we would be very loathe to see,” she said.

In February, the Heinz Endowments partnered with FracTracker Alliance and the MWA to sponsor free training sessions across southeastern Pennsylvania for citizens interested in using the website, which tracks and visualizes data related to shale gas extraction operations (see Shale Daily, Feb. 19).

The charity awarded Pennsylvania State University researchers a three-year, $412,000 grant to identify and mitigate the effects of Marcellus Shale exploration and development on the state’s forest ecosystem (see Shale Daily, Feb. 9, 2011).

Of the 19 grants totaling $2.37 million awarded for a variety of Marcellus Shale-focused activities from 2009 to 2012, the first to receive a grant was the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which received $50,000 to study the impact of shale drilling on the Upper Delaware River Basin.

Three universities received funding in 2010. Cornell University was given $150,000 to study the economic impact of Marcellus Shale development in parts of New York and Pennsylvania, while Carnegie Mellon University received $100,000 to study air pollution impacts and Duquesne University got $87,320 to create a baseline assessment for wildlife in the play, which included microbial profiling, and a fish and salamander survey. Other recipients that year included the Clean Water Fund ($59,000), the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center ($25,000) and Trout Unlimited Inc. ($75,000).

Duquesne received two more grants, totaling $194,796, for its baseline studies in 2011. Trout Unlimited also got money for a second year ($90,000). Meanwhile the Community Foundation of Greater Johnstown and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds received $840,000 and $49,100, respectively, for expanding and participating in the FracTracker website. The MWA received $380,500.

Pittsburgh Film-Makers Inc. received $50,000 in 2011 to make short documentaries on the impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling on communities in southwestern Pennsylvania. The group was awarded another $21,400 in 2012, this time for a traveling exhibit of Marcellus photos, lectures and an online database.

The Clean Water Fund received $59,000 in 2010 and $45,000 in both 2011 and 2012. Earthjustice was awarded $50,000 in 2011 and $65,000 in 2012.