The state Court of Appeals agreed today to hear a a pair of cases that could determine whether local communities can ban gas drilling, including the controversial hydrofracking process — a decision that was praised by the natural gas lobby in Albany.

Both Norse Energy Corp. and Cooperstown Holstein Corp. have lost challenges to the local bans on gas drilling in the towns of Dryen and Middlefield respectively on the trial and appellate court levels.

But the energy companies appealed to the state’s highest court to determine the legality of the land use and home rule legislation approved by the towns that block drilling.

The court agreeing to hear the cases was praised by the Independent Oil and Gas Association, one of the primary lobbying entities backing high-volume fracking in the state.

“We’re pleased to know the merits of the issue will receive a dispassionate examination by the Court of Appeals,” said IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill.  “In our view, local bans on oil and gas exploration violate New York’s Environmental Conservation Law and create patchwork public policy and a level of regulatory uncertainty that discourages business development. State laws were enacted with the specific purpose of overseeing natural gas extraction, in that local municipal leaders lack the resources, scientific background and regulatory expertise to do so. Further, state laws wisely acknowledge the need for local communities to benefit from these activities, and localities are authorized to impose special taxes on natural gas production, which for decades have helped fund towns, schools and fire districts in many New York communities.”

Given the court’s timetable for hearing cases, oral arguments are not likely to occur until May 2014 and ruling is not expected until July 2014.