August 5, 2014

Christi Craddick being tapped to head Railroad Commission

He would replace Chairman Barry Smitherman, who will step down when his term ends at the end of the year.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick is being tapped to replace Barry Smitherman as the next chairman of the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

On Tuesday, Commissioner David Porter said he will ask that Craddick, who was elected to the commission in 2012 to serve a six-year term, be chosen chairman at the agency’s Aug. 12 meeting.

Smitherman, who ran unsuccessfully in the the state’s Republican Party primary for attorney general, will step down when his term ends this year. Smitherman has served as chairman since 2012.

“The [Texas] Railroad Commission is on track to deal with some of the largest and most important issues the agency has ever faced next year,” Porter said in a prepared statement. “I believe the time for new leadership is now.”

Porter has served on the three-member commission since 2010.

Lauren Hamner, a spokeswoman for Craddick, would not comment on the nomination. Neither would Smitherman’s office when contacted by the Star-Telegram.

Mary Bell, a spokeswoman for Porter, said there is no timetable for selecting a chairman; it can be changed at any time by a majority vote of the commissioners.

She wrote that Porter is not giving up his opportunity to serve as chairman, but that he felt that Craddick’s “legislative experience is well-suited to lead the [commission] in this coming session.”

Craddick, who is the daughter of former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, is an attorney specializing in oil and gas, water, tax issues, electric deregulation and environmental policy.

She served as her father’s chief political and legal adviser from 2002 to 2011 and worked in the legal department of the commission.

The commission has come under fire by environmentalists and others for how it oversees the oil and gas industry.

Residents in the Barnett Shale, for example, have criticized commissioners for not doing more to determine the cause of a series of earthquakes near Azle late last year that many residents believe were caused by disposal wells containing hydraulic fracturing wastewater.

The agency’s lack of transparency has also come into question. Executive Director Milton Rister has vetoed all media requests to interview staff members since he took the helm in October 2012, a rarity among Texas agencies.

If Craddick is selected chairman, don’t expect that to change, said Bill Miller, a political consultant who has worked for Craddick.

“She is pretty darned closed-mouth” and a tough disciplinarian, Miller said. “She will continue to be closed-mouth and tight with information.”

The race for the commission seat held by Smitherman will be decided in November. Republican Ryan Sitton is running against Democrat Steve Brown and Libertarian Mark Miller.

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