The Colorado Supreme Court Monday blocked challenges to six ballot proposals backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polisconcerning local regulation of oil and gas operations.

The ruling means the campaign backing the measures can move forward with collecting signatures to put some of them before voters this fall.

The court dismissed challenges to six ballot proposals: No. 85, 86, 87, 89, 90 and 93.

The proposals vary slightly, but in general address either how far drilling rigs should be from homes or whether local governments should have the authority to limit or ban oil and gas development within their jurisdictions.

They are among nine proposals that were filed and are supported by Polis. The other three already have been approved for signature gathering.

The campaign in mid June started gathering signatures on Initiative 88 (mandating 2,000-foot setbacks between wells and inhabited structures) and Initiative 89 (asserting a right to clean air, water and scenic values).

“The campaign is very pleased with today’s outcome from the Supreme Court,” said Nick Passanante, the campaign director for a group called “Safe. Clean. Colorado”, which Polis has helped financially.

“We look forward to continuing a robust dialogue with the voters, and are confident that Coloradans will come down on the side of commonsense protections for our kids and families in November,” he said.

The campaign had previously promised that it would collect signatures on only one of the initiatives focused on each of the broad subjects of drilling setbacks and local control. Passanante said the campaign expects to decide this week which of the local-government proposals will be the focus of its signature collection efforts.

The campaign has until Aug. 4 to collect more than 86,105 valid petition signatures on each measure and turn them in to the Secretary of State’s office.

The campaign said Friday that its first week of collections resulted in a combined 15,000 petition signatures and that the campaign had purchased $100,000 in digital ads.

Spokespeople for two groups that are mounting campaigns against the Polis-backed initiatives say they believe that voters will reject the congressman’s proposals at the ballot box.

“Polis cast about a dozen lines hoping to catch a fish, namely to ban oil and gas development. Even if one or two make the ballot, we don’t think voters will bite,” said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for the business-backed group Coloradans For Responsible Reform.

Karen Crummy — spokeswoman for Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, also known as Protect Colorado, another group opposed to the measures — noted that there was a dissent from Chief Justice Nancy Rice on the decision addressing initiative proposals No. 90 and 93.

Rice wrote that No. 90 and 93 “could surprise voters who own property near oil and gas deposit and support a setback requirement by including a ‘surreptitious provision that could curtail the voters’ constitutional rights to just compensation for a taking of their property.”

Said Crummy: It’s unfortunate the Congressman Polis and his campaign manager are dancing on the grave of Coloradans’ private property rights, but we have confidence that the voters in this state will see these initiatives as Chief Justice Rice did: as a ‘surreptitious’ method of taking voters property without just compensation.”

“These ballot proposals pose a threat to every property owner in the state. If the government can take away these rights, why can’t it take any other personal property right?” Crummy said.

Meanwhile, negotiations have been underway to craft a legislative proposal dealing with local-control issues that could pass a special session of the state Legislature in hopes of heading off a fight at the ballot box.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his staff floated two proposals in June in hopes of gathering enough support to pass.

Several groups have already weighed in, and Monday, Terry Frankhauser, the executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said his organization opposes the latest proposal because it creates the potential for local governments to pass differing sets of rules that leave uneven land values from county to county.

But he is more concerned with the fact that negotiations seemed to be aimed not at solving the local-control issue in the long term but at coming up with a bill that would please Polis — who is not meeting with the concerned organizations.

Frankhauser questioned also why some of the local governments so concerned with gaining more power over drilling regulations have not yet used all of the tools available to them, such as signing memoranda of understanding to designate local representatives to work with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on setting statewide rules.

“It’s not a good process for Coloradans to be negotiating against themselves with initiatives being held over their head,” Frankhauser told the Denver Business Journal. “We would be interested in trying to sit down and negotiate. But what doesn’t work for us is shooting in the dark until Congressman Polis decides he accepts something or doesn’t accept it.”

The Polis-backed initiatives approved by the Supreme Court on Monday are:

  • Initiative No. 85: It requires drilling rigs to be 1,500 feet from homes. It declares that the action is not a “taking” of private property, and therefore a local government doesn’t have to compensate the owner of the mineral rights that cannot be accessed due to the setback.
  • Initiative No. 86: It requires rigs to be at least 2,000 feet from homes. It uses the same language about it not being a taking.
  • Initiative No. 87: It requires rigs be at least 2,640 feet (half-mile) from homes. It uses the same language about it not being a taking.
  • Initiative No. 89: It asserts Coloradans have a right to clean air, water and scenic values. The campaign said it started collecting signatures on this initiative in mid-June while waiting on the court’s decision.
  • Initiative No. 90: It would allow local governments to prohibit or limit oil and gas development within their borders, and that such actions wouldn’t constitute a taking.
  • Initiative No. 93: It would allow local government to limit oil and gas development, but is silent on whether they can prohibit. It also includes the language about the government decision not being a taking.

The campaign also is collecting signatures on proposal No. 88, which requires a 2,000-foot drilling setback, and which had already been approved by the court.

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