VAIL, Colo. -- George Shultz , former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, came to the third annual Vail Global Energy Forum in early March with a clear message for the stakeholders in attendance. Global warming is a reality, he said, “so we need to take out an insurance policy.” Shultz challenged individuals to undertake what they could “do, and do now.”

That message was a rallying point at the forum held on March 1 and 2. Speakers discussed the potential impacts of soaring domestic oil and natural gas production and U.S. energy independence; the role of natural gas as a bridge fuel and its place in world energy markets; China’s influence and position in global climate change; the outlook for solar, wind and other renewables; and the public’s attitudes toward energy.

Speakers heralded the February approval of new rules made by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to reduce air pollution from oil and gas drilling -- including regulations to reduce methane emissions -- as a model for other states. A panel made up of Fred Krupp , the 20-year head of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper , and oil and gas executives Chuck Davidson , chairman and CEO of Noble Energy Inc . (NYSE: NBL), Brad Holly , vice president of Rockies operations for Anadarko Petroleum Corp . (NYSE: APC), and Doug Suttles , president and chief executive of Encana Corp . (NYSE: ECA), celebrated and provided insight into the groundbreaking, collaborative process in which they took part.

The rules are the most stringent for any state in prescribing reductions in “fugitive” methane emissions. Operators have to perform frequent checks for leaks, using infrared cameras and other technologies, and move quickly to repair them. The rules also address methane leaks from storage tanks and other equipment.

Methane has become a significant factor in the debate about natural gas’ role in energy supply. The EDF says that while natural gas produces half the carbon dioxide (CO 2) of coal when combusted and offers advantages for local and regional air quality compared to coal, this benefit can be undermined by methane leaks throughout the gas supply chain, including during production. “Methane is at least 28 times more powerful than CO 2 as a greenhouse gas over the longer term and at least 84 times more potent in the near term,” the