One of Kentucky’s largest firms, Stoll Keenon Ogden, has opened an office in Western Pennsylvania with three of its existing lawyers who focus their practices on real estate due diligence and title examinations for oil and gas, as well as coal, producers.

The office, located in the Southpointe business park in Washington County, Pa., is the Lexington-based firm’s first location outside of Kentucky and will be led by member David H. Thomason, who has more than 45 years’ experience in mineral law.

He’s currently working out of the new office alongside member Lawrence E. Goodwin Jr. and of counsel Peter B. Lewis with an eye toward hiring and training younger local attorneys.

Thomason joined Stoll Keenon in 1998 and opened the firm’s Henderson, Ky., office with his son, John, and another attorney.

Around 2007, Thomason and a group of fellow Stoll Keenon lawyers were called upon to perform the real estate due diligence for a transaction between St. Louis-based Peabody Energy and Pittsburgh-based CNX Gas Corp. — a former spinoff of Consol Energy that has since been reacquired — in which Peabody swapped 860,000 acres of oil and gas reserves across New Mexico, West Virginia, the Illinois Basin, Montana and Wyoming for 41 million tons of coal reserves in West Virginia and Kentucky and $15 million from CNX.

Later, Thomason and his firm were involved in the real estate due diligence for Consol’s acquisition of Dominion Resources Inc.’s Appalachian Basin natural gas properties, as well as for Consol’s partnerships with Hess Corp. in the Utica Shale play and with Noble Energy Inc. in the Marcellus Shale play.

During that period, Thomason said he and several other lawyers at the firm began spending a lot of time in Southpointe, which has become a hub for oil and gas companies in recent years.

As Thomason noted, several energy companies have national headquarters in the business park.

“This is where the action is,” he said.

Thomason, who cut his teeth practicing mineral law in the Illinois Basin, a natural resource formation that underlies parts of Illinois, Southwestern Indiana and Western Kentucky, said he believes the key for the United States to break free from its dependence on foreign oil lies in Western Pennsylvania and the surrounding states where the Marcellus and Utica shale plays are most active.

Thomason said he and his firm intend to remain active in the coal industry as well but noted that he sees the country headed more toward natural gas.

“The market for coal is going to be overseas, if they’ll let us ship it overseas,” he said, explaining that recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions regulations for power plants have effectively made natural gas the cheaper alternative to coal.

“It seemed to me that the Illinois Basin is more suited for shipping coal down there because it’s located on the Ohio river and up here is more suited for gas production,” Thomason continued. “That’s where I think the future of this area and the future of the country is as far as energy goes.”

According to Thomason, while there are many lawyers in Pennsylvania with oil and gas experience, there are simply not enough to meet the current level of demand in the state.Recognizing that, he saw an opportunity to open up shop in Western Pennsylvania with two other experienced attorneys in the hope of attracting young talent that can be trained.

“We’ve got as much as experience as anybody’s got in oil and gas,” he said.

However, Thomason added that the new office does not represent an attempt to quickly cash in on a booming industry. In fact, he acknowledged that the oil and gas market may be entering a slow period until after the presidential election in November.

“But I’m looking at the long run and in the long run this area is going to be hot,” he said, adding that he believes the United States is not far off from seeing trucks and other automobiles switch over to compressed natural gas as their main fuel source.

“I’d say the future is the brightest I’ve seen in the 45 years I’ve been practicing,” he said.

Thomason, 69, said he also envisions the possibility of taking on roles in Pennsylvania’s energy industry beyond his law practice, drawing on the experience he gained serving in the Kentucky House of Representatives in the early 1980s and working as a lobbyist for the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association for about 20 years after that.

“I know I’m a country-sounding guy from Western Kentucky, but that has never adversely affected me and I may be of some value as an expert witness,” he said, adding, “whatever helps the industry, helps our law practice.”

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI.