Barry Smitherman, former chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, will join Vinson & Elkins effective April 1 as a partner in its nationally renowned Energy Regulatory practice.

Smitherman, who will practice in the firm’s Austin office, will focus on advising energy industry clients with matters pending before state and federal regulatory agencies throughout the United States and will support V&E’s energy transaction and litigation practices.

“Our energy practice has been a core strength of the firm for decades, and Barry’s outstanding national reputation and experience in the energy industry will only enhance the firm’s deep bench,” said V&E Chairman Mark Kelly. “Barry possesses a unique combination of public and private sector knowledge that will benefit our clients and numerous practices within our firm. We could not be more pleased to have him join V&E.”

Having served for more than a decade on Texas’ top energy commissions, Smitherman has particular experience with initiatives such as electric transmission development, energy storage, renewable generation, and natural gas fracking and related oil and gas development issues.

“V&E’s robust energy practice provides the perfect opportunity for me to leverage the insights I gained with the Railroad Commission and Public Utility Commission,” Smitherman said. “In addition, V&E’s reputation as a leader among energy firms, its wealth of talented attorneys, and dedication to clients were particular draws for me. I am excited to embark on this next stage of my career.”

Smitherman is the only person in Texas history to have served on both the RRC and the PUCT. In July 2011, Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the RRC to serve an unexpired term, and he was later elected statewide for a two-year term in November 2012.

Early in his tenure, he was selected by his colleagues to serve as chairman of the RRC, which oversees the oil, natural gas, coal mining, intrastate pipeline and local gas distribution industries in Texas.

Under Smitherman’s leadership, the agency executed a number of key initiatives, including the development of rules requiring disclosure of chemical ingredients and water volumes used to hydraulically fracture wells in Texas.

In addition, Smitherman led a successful effort by the agency to overhaul, for the first time in 30 years, its well construction requirements related to casing, cementing, drilling, well control and completions.

The RRC also created rules encouraging the recycling of hydraulic fracturing “flow-back fluids” and adopted disposal well rule amendments to address operations in areas of historical or future seismic activity.

During his chairmanship of the RRC, Barry also served two years as chair of the Gas Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, from 2013 through 2014.

“Barry has a deep understanding of the rules and regulations that affect the upstream and midstream oil and gas business, as well as the electric and gas utility industries,” said Jim Thompson, Head of V&E’s Global Litigation Department and chair of the firm’s Shale and Hydraulic Fracturing Task Force. “His familiarity with the complex and shifting regulations across the U.S. and other emerging challenges the energy industry faces will advance our ability to service our clients.”

Prior to his service with the RRC, Smitherman was a member of the PUCT from April 2004 through July 2011, and served as chairman of the agency for the last three and a half years of his tenure.

At the PUCT, Smitherman spearheaded the agency’s adoption and management of the 3,600-mile Competitive Renewable Energy Zone transmission line project, handling routing disputes and acting as the agency’s liaison with the Texas Legislature, service providers, and landowners.

While chairman, he also sat on the Board of Directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, served as Vice President of the Regional State Committee of the Southwest Power Pool, and served two terms on the U.S. Department of Energy Electricity Advisory Committee.

Before entering statewide public service, Smitherman spent 16 years as an investment banker. He held leadership positions with several firms including Lazard, The First Boston Corporation, J.P. Morgan Securities, and Banc One Capital Markets.

V&E’s Energy Regulatory practice is consistently ranked among the nation’s best, including a top ranking in Nationwide Energy: Oil and Gas – Regulatory & Litigation in Chambers USA and Chambers Global (2015). The firm is also highly recommended in Nationwide Energy: Electricity – Regulatory & Litigation and top ranked in Texas Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) by Chambers USA (2014).

“Barry’s diverse experience touches a number of emerging issues for our clients in Texas and nationally,” said Matt Henry, co-leader of V&E’s Energy Regulatory practice group. “We look forward to the significant contributions Barry will bring to the table.”


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