Chrysta Castaneda is a go-to lawyer for high-stakes litigation in the energy industry and beyond. Chrysta is running for election to the Texas Railroad Commission. On this podcast episode, she discusses with host Richard Levick her new book The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens, the future of the energy industry; post-pandemic, and what should be on GC’s agendas. Listen here
Speaker 1: Welcome to the Corporate Counsel Business Journal’s daily podcast, In House Warrior, with host Richard Levick, Chairman of Levick, a global crisis and litigation communications firm.
Richard Levick: Welcome to In House Warrior, the daily podcast for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. I’m Richard Levick and I’m with Chrysta Castaneda of The Castaneda Firm. And she’s an oil and gas attorney and currently a candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, the statewide oil and gas regulators. Many refer to this as the most important election on environmental issues of 2020. Chrysta, welcome to In House Warrior.
Chrysta Castaneda: Thank you for having me.
Levick: It’s great to see you. It’s been a number of years, I know. I think the last time we were together was either ribs or chili because it was Texas.
Castaneda: That’s right.
Levick: But no one’s getting close to anyone else these days. So let’s start with, I know you just released a new book. It’s called The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens. That’s an amazing title and an amazing story. Why don’t you share a little bit about that?
Castaneda: Sure. I had the opportunity to be the lead counsel for T. Boone Pickens, who at age 88, decided to take on some oil and gas companies in a deal that he had been cut out of. And we had a tremendous time, it was a tremendous struggle, but we won $145 million verdict, right there in the heart of oil company, or oil country. And he sat through the trial every day. It was an incredible tale and I was very proud to have represented him.
Levick: And what does it take to win such a major oil and gas case?
Castaneda: Well, it took tremendous preparation, tremendous client commitment. You don’t win these cases unless you are fully devoted, both as a trial team and as a client to devoting your full energy, to seeing it through. That means financially, that means with your expertise, that means with your attendance, that means with literally your heart and soul.
Levick: What’s it like being a woman as a litigator in a heavily male dominated profession?
Castaneda: Oh, most days, I don’t really notice it. I’ve been doing it over 30 years, but there are days when I definitely do. There’s a little scene in the book where we’re all huddled around the bench. We’re having a sidebar conference and it’s been weeks and it’s West Texas and the men have been away from their dry cleaners. And I’m a little bit shorter than all of them and stifled as I’m trying to make my arguments. But you plow through and you just do your best and it’s worked out great for me. I’ve always enjoyed what I do.
Levick: Chrysta here you are. You’re in the middle of oil and gas country. You’re running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the statewide regulator. What’s the future for the energy industry?
Castaneda: Wow. Right now, that’s such a great question. COVID-19 has us all staying in our houses. We don’t drive our cars. We don’t fly on airplanes. Demand is down 30%. The oil markets have crashed. The Saudis and the Russians are flooding the market with their own oil, I believe, in a last ditch attempt to sell what they can before the last time they will be able to sell it. We’re all great at the pump right now. We’re paying less than $2 a gallon, but there’s going to be a bullwhip effect as these oil companies literally go out of business and stop producing the wells. It’s a tremendously challenging time.
Levick: How do you see, gas is starting to approach 1980 cost levels, if you will, but we’re not driving anywhere. So what happens now when we get through the pandemic? What do you see on the horizon for the energy industry?
Castaneda: I think a return to demand is going to be very slow. And I think that there is actually going to be displacement to cleaner energy sources. I think it’s inevitable. I mean, we’re on Zoom right now. I think that Zoom is going to take away demand probably at some level permanently because we figured out how to use it and when to use it.
Levick: So the last question for you is you’re a general counsel of either an energy company or a company that works closely with other energy companies. What’s your recommendations for the GCs over the next year? What should they be looking out for? What are the most important things should be on their agenda?
Castaneda: Clearly, financing and balance sheet issues are going to be priority. There’s only a few players who are going to be able to withstand this prolonged downturn in prices. A lot of covenants are going to be busted. There’s going to be a lot of bankruptcies, there already are. And here’s the other thing. The court systems are going to work very slowly as long as this COVID thing is in place. We’re holding court from afar. And some courts are only handling essential matters, particularly in places like the counties that produce oil. So it’s going to be a long, hard slog to get out of this, and patience, perseverance, trust your counsel and find the good counsel now because there’s going to be a big demand for legal services as we work our way up.
Levick: Chrysta, thank you so much. Good luck in the election for the Texas Railroad Commission. Chrysta Castaneda with Richard Levick of In House Warrior for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal. We’ll see you tomorrow.
Speaker 1: You’ve been listening to the Corporate Counsel Business Journal’s In House Warrior with host, Richard Levick.