A number of Pennsylvania foundations have stepped up their support for research projects related to the impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on the environment, the Associated Press reports.
Over the past three years, more than $19 million in gas-drilling-related grants have been awarded by area foundations like the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation. The Heinz Endowments, for example, have provided some $12 million to a range of organizations and institutions, including Cornell University, EarthJustice, and Trout Unlimited. "Foundation support has been critical as we and others who study water have worked to understand how energy and water resources affect each other in southwestern Pennsylvania," said Carnegie Mellon University professor Jeanne VanBriesen.
Fracking has made it possible for energy companies to access pockets of oil and gas trapped in shale rock, but the process has come under fire from environmentalists for the contamination threat it poses to groundwater sources. Although industry experts argue that pollution problems are rare, environmental groups and scientists argue that not enough research has been done to definitively assess the threat.
Industry critics also claim there's a bias in the foundation-sponsored projects, especially when the grant recipient is clearly opposed to fracking. Foundations counter that there are many questions about the process that have yet to be answered. "We are trying to be balanced," said Heinz Endowments president Robert Vagt. "We will sacrifice the environment for nothing."