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Colorado Local Control Ballot Proposals Get Court's OK

The heavily debated issue of local control over oil/natural gas activity in Colorado is free to be placed on the November ballot following a state Supreme Court ruling on Monday. Five proposed initiatives were given a green light by the state's high court; a sixth had earlier received similar approval.

Proponents of the measures still need to collect more than 86,000 valid signatures for each proposal by Aug. 4 to qualify the measures for the ballot.

Since earlier this year, Colorado has had as many as 17 measures dealing with drilling and local control proposed for the November ballot (see Shale DailyApril 16). Separate from the legal and ballot activity, the industry has gotten behind an effort by Gov. John Hickenlooper to adopt compromise legislation that would eliminate the need for the ballot measure (see Shale DailyJune 27).

The measures reviewed by the Supreme Court deal with local powers, well setback distances and a proposed environmental bill of rights for Colorado. Two of the initiatives (90 and 93) use slightly varying language to give local governments the power to limit or prohibit oil/gas operations; three others (85, 86 and 87) would increase setback requirements for wells by difference distances.

“The supreme court holds that Initiatives 90 and 93 each contain one subject -- the expansion of local governments’ authority to enact laws regulating oil and gas development that are more restrictive than state law,” one of the court rulings said. “The supreme court also holds that the titles set by the Title Board fairly reflect the purpose of the initiatives and are not misleading.”

The high court made the same ruling for the other three proposed initiatives that deal with setback distances.

Chief Justice Nancy Rice dissented, arguing that the state's single subject requirement for statewide ballot measures is violated by the proposed initiatives. “The proposed initiatives and their titles violate the single subject rule and could unfairly mislead voters,” Rice wrote in her dissent.

Ballot measure backers from the Safe Clean Colorado group lauded the court's decision and criticized the oil/gas industry for "wasting" so much court time, according to a report in the Denver Post.

On the opposite side, spokespersons for industry-supported Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy focused on Rice's dissent in expressing confidence that voters will reject whatever measures end up making it onto the ballot. The opponents said Rice correctly sees the proposed ballot measures as "taking voters' property without compensation."

A Denver-based spokesperson for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) deferred to the activist committee, Protect Colorado, which has been fighting the ballot measures for comments on the court case. “They are working directly on the campaign against the ballot initiatives,” said the COGA spokesperson.

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