BEAVER CREEK - Energy independence might be a few short years away, said Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Or it'll take longer, but we will get there, said Tom Petrie with Petrie Partners.
Both were part of an all-star roster of speakers for this year's Vail Global Energy Forum, and both agreed we'll get there through compromise and facts.
"We are going to be fact-based, we're going to be respectful and finally, we're going to compromise," Hickenlooper said. "The real challenge is getting everyone on the same facts."
Not so long ago, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said that, done properly, she believed hydraulic fracturing could be done safely. Opponents were loud and immediate.
"It caused a huge uproar, but she didn't back away from that and she remained fact based," Hickenlooper said.
If the forum's panel discussions and presentations are any indication - and they are - the world's energy questions will be answered through a combination of improved technology, data and human behavior motivated by the greater good and various kinds of rewards.
Tom Siebel - founder, president and CEO of C3 Energy - presented "Business Opportunities for Energy Efficiency and the Smart Grid." The smart grid will revolutionize the industry and they'll do their bit to save the world, but in the final analysis they're trying to "make money," he said.
Hickenlooper calls himself a recovering geologist on loan to public service. He says he's an "all of the above" energy guy.
"It's going to take longer than many of the advocates of renewables want to admit, but it's made more possible by natural gas," Petrie said. "Reaching a critical mass for generating enough electricity through renewables to power vehicles is probably a decade, probably several decades away in my view."
Hickenlooper reminded solar and wind opponents that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology was made possible with $6 billion in federal research grants. Eventually, natural gas reached a tipping point and is now widely available and cheap - maybe too cheap, Hickenlooper said.
"You can't have an intermittent energy source like solar when the clouds roll in, and wind when the breeze dies down without another energy source that steps up when they slow down. Natural gas is perfect for that," Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper said he looks at Colorado's energy industry through the prism of three "critical" issues: economics and jobs, environmental issues and world security - the ability to temper some of the intensity around the world that can be related to energy.
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology could quadruple the amount of oil and gas available, and also where drilling can happen, he said.
Energy-producing states are talking to each other, Hickenlooper said. Every week, the standards are getting closer and it's not too far to when states could agree to accept the most stringent regulations.
Millions of wells have been drilled in the U.S. and each one provides information, even the dry ones, Petrie said.
Through the first years of his career, the industry was looking about 10 years out and generating about as much natural gas as was being consumed, he said.
Now, the industry calculates between 150 and 175 years of reserves.
The Bakken Shale field in North Dakota covers 15,000 square miles. It was originally thought to be 4 billion barrels. Now it's thought to be 12 billion to 15 billion barrels, and maybe twice that as technology improves, Petrie said.
"We have an opportunity to substitute gas for coal, and directly or indirectly substitute gas for oil," Petrie said.
In 2005, 50 percent of our electricity was produced by coal. Now it's 43 percent and could soon be 30 percent, Petrie said.