Hot on the heels of Consol Energy’s agreement to buy Dominion Resources’ Appalachian natural gas properties for $3.48 billion in cash, a source tells us Indian energy major Reliance Industries wants to team up with Atlas Energy to develop gas operations in the same hot area of the U.S.: Marcellus Shale.

Independent oil and gas company Atlas has been seeking a partner for its operations in the energy-rich region, and Reliance has been hungry for a deal for months, having been rebuffed twice in efforts to take over foreign firms.

Atlas’s core Marcellus position consists of 266,000 acres largely in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Shale spans parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York and could hold enough natural gas to satisfy U.S. demand for a decade, according to some geologists.

But while Americans hoping for energy independence routinely sing from the “drill-baby-drill” hymn book, some of the more protectionist-leaning will doubtless note that the gas in them thar hills is getting a lot of foreign attention.

Japan’s Mitsui & Co paid $1.4 billion to become a joint venture partner with Anadarko Petroleum in the area, and in 2008, Chesapeake Energy sold 32.5 percent of its holdings in the play — around 590,000 acres — to Norway’s Statoil for $3.375 billion.