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Charitable groups find allies in gas drilling industry

| Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

Charities battered by a bad economy found a friend in the region's natural gas industry.

"The trend that we've seen over the last several years of an increase in giving is only going to increase in the future, and that's another demonstration of the sustainability and longevity of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania," said Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a 250-member industry group.

Forde said the number of members makes it difficult to tally the industry's charitable contributions.

The coalition established a foundation to contribute to environmental protection and public education causes. Last fall, a number of coalition members gave $1 million in cash and in-kind services to communities in Pennsylvania affected by flooding from Tropical Storm Lee.

"The potential for them to give significant amounts to the nonprofit sector is there," said Scott B. Leff, associate director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management.

Marcellus shale gas drilling has created controversy, particularly over its impact on the environment. A nonprofit group needs to think about whether accepting a gift from an energy company would influence other donations, Leff said.

"Organizations do need to be careful that if they accept support from individuals or businesses or any kind of entity whose work could be interpreted as counter to the organization's mission, it can undermine the objectivity and integrity of how the organization is perceived," he said.

Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc., a coal and gas producer, spends about $7 million yearly on philanthropic projects, said Laural Ziemba, Consol's director of community relations. She said that amount grew by a couple hundred thousand dollars during the past year.

Consol typically puts money toward public safety, education, youth programs, groups that assist veterans, conservation and arts and culture, she said.

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Texas-based Range Resources, which has offices in Cecil, said the company's philanthropy in Western Pennsylvania started at about $400,000 a year four years ago and now tops $1 million a year. Range likes to support education, health, the environment and agriculture, especially youth livestock auctions that provide scholarships.

Chevron officials declined to disclose the amount of charitable contributions it makes here.

"Last year, we were ramping up our activity, and this year we will increase our investment in Western Pennsylvania and the tri-state area," said Trip Oliver, manager of policy, government and public affairs for its office in Moon.

He said Chevron focuses on science, technology, engineering and math education for students and training for adults who could work at the company. Last year, Chevron and six partners gave the Carnegie Science Center $1 million to create a center to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math.

Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania's youth development group has received more than $50,000 a year from EQT, and 10 other energy-related companies and groups each give contributions that range from $5,000 to $30,000 a year.

Junior Achievement uses volunteers from businesses to teach workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

"The more funding we receive, the more kids can receive the Junior Achievement message of being successful in their futures," said Bill Lucas, chief development officer for the Junior Achievement chapter, based in Pittsburgh.

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