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Heinz Endowment president to become chairman of Rice Energy

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 11:58 a.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Robert Vagt

The Heinz Endowments president who resigned amid criticism he was too close to the oil and gas industry has accepted a new position as chairman of local gas driller Rice Energy Inc.

Rice nominated Robert Vagt, 66, to become its board chair when the company completes an initial public offering this month, the company said in a regulatory filing. The Cecil-based company plans to raise as much as $966 million in its IPO.

Vagt's last day at The Heinz Endowments, the region's second-biggest foundation with $1.4 billion in assets, is Jan. 24, spokeswoman Carmen Lee said. Despite past criticisms, the foundation doesn't have any problems with his new position, she said.

“His plans for the future don't conflict with what he's doing now,” Lee said. “He's entitled to do what he wants to do in the future. So, no, there's no concern.”

The Heinz Endowments will be hiring a search firm to look for a replacement, Lee said. It plans to have senior staff work with a committee of board members to run day-to-day activities when Vagt leaves, she said.

Vagt declined to be interviewed, Lee said. His position as Rice board chair is not a full-time job, Lee added, declining to provide details of Vagt's responsibilities. Rice Energy officials declined to comment.

Rice plans to give Vagt 12,500 shares of restricted stock vested one year after the IPO but mentioned no other compensation in its filling on Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Based on the IPO price range, Vagt's stock would be worth as much as $262,500.

Vagt announced his resignation from The Heinz Endowments in October and is the fourth key executive to leave in the past year. The foundation had been in turmoil because of wrangling within the family of ketchup heirs and outside criticism of its attempt to foster collaboration between shale gas drillers and environmental groups.

Vagt had been central to the establishment of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, a joint industry/environmental institute focused on setting standards for safe shale gas drilling. The Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit that targets business and government, criticized the group in part because of Vagt's long ties to industry.

Vagt spent more than 10 years in leadership positions with oil and gas companies. Most recently, Vagt was a board member with the pipeline company El Paso Corp. from May 2005 to June 2012, overlapping with most of his six years as endowments president, Rice told the SEC.

Vagt is still listed on the board of directors of pipeline company Kinder Morgan, which bought El Paso in late 2011. Rice did not mention that in its SEC filing.

Rice itself has had conflict-of-interest issues. Its founder is Daniel J. Rice III, the former energy portfolio manager at BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager. BlackRock had never reported Rice's moonlighting to investors.

After the financial press exposed those conflicts, Rice left that post in December 2012, with he and the company saying they wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Since January 2013, he has been lead portfolio manager for GRT Capital's energy division, Rice said in its SEC filing.

Rice Energy has set an introductory price range at $19 to $21 a share for its IPO, which it previously said would be in the first three months of 2012. The company and one of its stockholders plans to sell 40 million to 46 million shares, raising as much as $966 million.

The company expects to net about $566 million and will use the proceeds largely to pay off debt and help fund its $1 billion investment for gas development in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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