Last week, the state Court of Appeals heard arguments on two cases that could decide whether local governments have the authority to ban or regulate natural gas development through high-volume hydraulic fracturing in their communities. The practice, commonly called “fracking,” uses chemical-laced water to release natural gas from deep rock deposits.

The two cases have been closely watched by the industry that is hoping to develop the state’s natural gas resources, and opponents of the practice, who believe that it threatens water resources and public health.

The towns of Dryden and Middlefield, which each have a population under 2,000, banned oil and gas drilling within their borders in 2011.  Energy companies that owned or leased land in those towns challenged the towns, arguing local zoning laws do not take precedence over the state’s oil and gas laws that are intended to protect mining and drilling activity.  They argue that allowing local bans will create a patchwork of regulation throughout the state that will prevent effective extraction of gas resources.  Gas drilling opponents argue that local governments have the right to determine what activities are permitted (or not) within their borders.

Gov. Cuomo has said he will not decide whether to end the state’s de facto ban on hydraulic fracturing until a health impact review that was begun in 2012 is completed.  No timetable for completion of that review has been announced.

In the meantime, our domestic gas production industry is on life support.  According to this report from Capital NY, over the last six years the state’s natural gas industry has contracted sharply.  In 2006, New York produced 55 billion cubic feet of natural gas. In 2012, the state produced 26 billion cubic feet.  In 2008, the state issued more than 700 drilling permits; it issued fewer than 200 permits in 2012.

So it will come as no surprise that it is estimated that less than half of the 5,000 gas industry jobs that existed in the state in 2008 still exist.