Criticized for Oil Ties, Heinz Foundation Head Leaves for Fracking Company

The organization has lost four top executives in the past year while pursuing controversial “clean fracking” initiative.

(January 15, 2013) –The Heinz Endowments’ president, who has come under fire for close ties to the resource industry, will step down later this month to join natural gas producer Rice Energy.

Robert Vagt is the fourth senior executive to leave the Pittsburgh-based foundation in the past year, Heinz spokeswoman Carmen Lee confirmed to aiCIO. She declined to comment on its reasons for doing so.

Three of the four positions at the $1.4 billion fund remain open, Lee said. A search for Vagt’s replacement is underway.

Neither Vagt nor Rice Energy’s CEO Daniel Rice responded to requests for comment.

During his six years as president, Vagt pushed for engagement between environmentalists and resource companies, many of which extract natural gas in Pennsylvania via hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking).  Last year, he and the funds’ then-Environmental Officer Caren Glotfelty established the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) in Pittsburgh. 

The two Heinz family endowments partnered with the organization, which “is committed to transparency in our efforts to develop the Appalachian Basin’s abundant shale resources in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” according to its website.

The center’s other partners include Chevron, Shell, and several business-friendly environmental groups.

The Heinz Foundations’ backing of “clean fracking” operations has drawn criticism from environmental groups who oppose the extraction strategy. Vagt’s own connections with the oil and gas industry have made him the target of conflict of interest allegations.

According to the Public Accountability Initiative, Vagt also serves as a director of gas pipeline company Kinder Morgan and owns more than $1.2 million in company stock. Under his leadership, the Heinz Endowments contributed $250,000 to CSSD—which he co-founded—to promote sustainable development of Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources. 

Vagt’s last day at the foundation is January 24, according its spokesperson. As incoming chairman of local gas driller Rice Energy, he will preside over its roughly initial public offering, valued at between $760 million and $840 million. 

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