Pittsburgh-based Babst Calland has opened an Akron, Ohio, office in the hopes of better serving its clients in a natural gas industry that is largely shifting its focus away from Northeastern Pennsylvania and toward Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
As The Legal has previously reported, drilling in Northeastern Pennsylvania has become a costly proposition because the shale in the region predominantly contains “dry” gas — gas that is almost pure methane — the value of which remains in the paltry range of about $2 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In response, drillers have begun investing more resources into Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, where there is a higher concentration of “wet” gas — a combination of methane and other components such as propane, benzenes and ethane — which is worth around $6 to $7 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Chester R. “Chip” Babst III, managing shareholder of Babst Calland, said his firm has noticed recently that its clients’ “more robust” drilling operations are taking place in the wet gas regions and decided it needed an Ohio office.
“We selected Akron because it’s a major metropolitan area, it’s in the middle of the active drilling areas in the state and it’s near major airports and key highways,” Babst said, adding that both the Marcellus and Utica shales run through Ohio.
The move comes about eight months after the firm opened in Charleston, W.Va., with two energy lawyers from Charleston-based Jackson Kelly.
Babst told The Legal in October that it had become “very clear” that the activity surrounding both the Marcellus and Utica shale plays was going to continue to expand into West Virginia.
Similarly, Babst said Friday that the firm’s decision to add an Ohio presence is primarily intended to remain in step with its current energy clients’ movement.
“We’ve been very fortunate to represent a lot of the energy firms as they’ve come up into Pennsylvania and have moved into West Virginia,” he said, adding, “We wanted to make sure we continued to serve them.”
The firm hired David E. Northrop, a 40-year veteran of Ohio’s environmental regulatory law bar, as a shareholder from Columbus-based Porter Wright last month. He’s been working out of the Pittsburgh office but will now move to the Ohio location.
Babst said Northrop “fits perfectly into what our firm over the last 26 years has turned into a sophisticated environmental regulatory practice with people who not only understand the environmental rules and regulations but know the regulators in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.”
Northrop will be joined in the Akron office by two new hires from the Akron and Canton, Ohio, offices of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs.
Clay K. Keller joined Babst Calland on Friday and Richard J. Lolli is scheduled to come aboard on June 25. Both were partners at Buckingham Doolittle and both come to Babst Calland as shareholders.
Lolli focuses his practice on real estate, small business and title insurance, while Keller’s practice centers on oil and gas litigation, as well as lease disputes and negotiations.
Babst said the firm came across Lolli and Keller with the help of a recruiting service and determined that their practices fit in with its multidisciplinary approach to energy law, which involves a collaborative effort between environmental, land use, litigation, title, business services, construction, and labor and employment lawyers.
“We have lawyers in each of those practice groups who focus their practices on the energy sector, looking at the issues they deal with on a daily basis but also watching how those issues are impacting a particular industry,” Babst explained, adding that energy lawyers in each practice group meet weekly to discuss trends and findings.
“As we looked in Ohio, we wanted to provide a multidisciplinary menu of services with a environmental regulatory attorney, a real estate attorney and litigator,” he added.
Babst said he envisions the Akron office growing rather quickly.
“We’ll probably be looking for some associates right away, but I have a feeling with the amount of work we foresee out in Ohio right now we’ll see this office growing over the next year or so to the five-to-10 [lawyer] level — the same kind of level we expect in Charleston,” he said.