The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a major environmental group, Wednesday launched a project that would offer communities and towns a helping hand in blocking hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The effort would extend to five states, but the focus would be on Pennsylvania and Ohio, where fracking is most pervasive.

“Communities around the country have had little defense against the oil and gas companies that sweep into their neighborhoods and start fracking…If a city or town decides it doesn’t want fracking, or wants to restrict it, their voice should be heard and respected. The [NRDC’s] Community Fracking Defense Project is intended to start giving communities that opportunity to do so,” wrote Kate Sinding, senior attorney and deputy director of NRDC’s New York Urban Program, in the NRDC’s blog, “Switchboard.”

The project is launching in five states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina) and will provide assistance to towns and other local governments that want added control over the siting of and/or protections against fracking in their communities, the NRDC said.

NRDC legal and policy staff would assist local partners in drafting local laws and land-use plans to control the extent of fracking within their borders; work to reassert communities’ rights to protect themselves under state law; and defend relevant zoning provisions.

“NRDC will be working with our local partners to evaluate the lay of the land and identify the opportunities that are most promising, effective, and potentially precedential in each of these states. For example, in three of these states where fracking is not yet widely practiced, there is an opportunity for communities to arm themselves with appropriate protections before serious community impacts occur,” Sinding said.

“In New York, a de facto moratorium remains in place while the state continues to evaluate the environmental — and hopefully the health — impacts of proposed new fracking. And the courts have thus far supported broad authority for municipalities to protect themselves against potential fracking, including through local bans on the practice,” she said.

“In Illinois and North Carolina, fracking is also still prospective (albeit it appears much more imminent in the former), providing a chance for communities to get ahead of the fracking rush.”

On the other hand, the issue of fracking in Pennsylvania is “hotly contested.” Earlier this week, the NRDC filed a “friend of the court” brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of a number of municipalities in support of a lower court decision that struck down portions of a recently enacted state law that severely limited the ability of local governments to use their zoning powers to control where fracking occurs.

“Ohio, too, is is already experiencing the impacts of fracking, much of it in the form of an influx of fracking wastes from other states. In these two states [Ohio and Pennsylvania] we will be working to establish and secure communities’ power to protect themselves against fracking’s…effects,” NRDC said.