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Practice Made Perfect

Mar/26/2023 / by Melanie Fourie

Lawyer Sweta Sethna breaks new ground in energy law

Sweta Sethna
Sweta Sethna, the chief counsel at Energy Transfer LP

Oil & Gas Investor has named Sweta Sethna, the chief counsel at Energy Transfer LP, one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Energy 2023. The Columbia Law School alumnus is a corporate attorney with expertise in oil and gas and technology transactions. In an interview with SEEMA, she discusses her occupation and private life.

Where were you born, and tell us about your formative years?

I was born in Kolkata, India, into a Hindu Punjabi family. It was an interesting mix of cultures because we lived in the east of India with Punjabi traditions [a northwestern state] and were surrounded by friends who were mostly Marwari (from the west of India). Being in Bengal, you cannot escape that influence, and I went to a convent school with tremendous exposure to Christianity. I believe that the secular values inculcated in me at an early age have greatly contributed to the person that I am today, both personally and professionally.

What made you venture into law?

I come from a family of businessmen. Anyone in business knows that lawyers are important. I would often go with my father to his meetings with lawyers when those were after school or during the weekend. The beautiful libraries of the lawyers and their knowledge and demeanor left a lasting impression that only grew with time. I was also a righteous kid, so it was the perfect profession to lean into.

Tell us a bit about your career prepping and earlier years in law post-graduation.

I have two bachelor’s degrees, which include a bachelor’s in law from Symbiosis Law School, which was then affiliated with the University of Pune, India, and a master’s in law from the Columbia University School of Law.

I could not wait to experience the practice of law, and grasped every opportunity I got to intern at litigation houses, in-house legal departments, and even the United Nations, where I did an externship while in Columbia Law School. Truly, I was passionate about the law and a curious baby attorney that wanted to learn everything, and not much has changed except for the “baby” part!

What made you decide to branch into the energy sector?

I moved to Houston for my husband, a native Houstonian. Residency in the energy hub of the U.S. organically brings you opportunities in that space. My first job interview came in within about a week after I met a recruiter in Houston, and it was with a midstream oil and gas company. My second employer, a bigger and more diversified energy company, headhunted me. So I have remained in the energy sector, where I continue to grow my experience.

What are some of the most gratifying aspects about your job as chief counsel at Energy Transfer LP?

I joined Energy Transfer right after their merger with Sunoco to support and integrate the big crude oil portfolio that came with the merger. It was a time of transition, which also meant that there were avenues where I could prove myself as a trusted advisor and team player alongside the senior management team, and I did exactly that. It has been a rewarding journey, and I have built lasting relationships along the way.

If you could help bring one law into effect that would assist with reversing the impact of climate change, what would it be?

There should be more individual responsibility and awareness. We are way behind other countries in our initiatives while contributing significantly to the crisis.

Decarbonization is a hot topic. However, the use of electrification and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy also has its challenges. Most electric cars still rely on fossil fuels, which emit carbon, a catalyst for climate change. Also, solar and wind energy are not always accessible. What solutions do you see to these problems?

Fossil fuels are not evil. They are essential and valuable. I believe we need to start looking for alternatives to fossil fuels, rather than complementary sources.

What’s your support system like?

I am grateful and blessed with supportive family and friends. My spouse is the paramount source of support for me, and I am lucky to have that in my life. It helps immensely in your career when you have balance and love at home.

How do you unwind?

Believe it or not, I love being home! I enjoy all things décor, invest time in learning and self-improvement, and also play mahjong. My husband and I try to travel, experience events and concerts, and generally live a full life.

Seema

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