In what’s become a larger-than-life drama, natural gas is the energy growth engine for the next 20 years, and hydraulic fracturing in North America is the driver, according to ExxonMobil’s Paul Greenwood, vice president for Americas gas marketing, in keynote remarks at a gas industry meeting in Los Angeles Tuesday.

Unconventional sources of gas from shale will become the “conventional” source by 2020, Greenwood told the LDC Gas Forum: Rockies & West conference as part of a talk on “Opportunities and Issues Facing the Gas Industry” that put most of the emphasis on the bright outlook for gas these days, predicting that it will last into a long-term future.

While labeling supplies as entirely “abundant, reliable and affordable” for years to come, Greenwood offered an outlook running until 2030 that expects natural gas to account for 60% of the world’s energy demand growth between 2005 and 2030. The health of the global economy longer term depends on energy growth, and the growth in electricity is also critical, said Greenwood, adding that gas for the most part will fuel added electric generation.

“Gas will be the world’s fastest growing energy source from now until 2030,” Greenwood repeated several times in his half-hour luncheon remarks. He unabashedly proclaimed gas as the answer to North America’s and the broader world’s long-term energy needs. He called the dramatic growth that he sees coming in natural gas demand “an ongoing process.”

Greenwood’s remarks were decidedly more bullish than other speakers at the first day of the two-day LDC Gas Forum who talked about supply and infrastructure growth outpacing demand for natural gas in North America (see related story).

Greenwood urged the gas industry to step up its efforts to refute growing misinformation and spread the real story about fracking, noting that it has been used for 60 years, and the industry knows how to do it safely, reliability and responsibly. He was unequivocal in saying it can be done without endangering local water supplies.

Two questions from the large, supportive industry audience nevertheless raised the dissenting points that (a) some people in Pennsylvania and other states have complained about water contamination, and (b) aside from fracking, the surface impact from equipment, buildings, trucks and other aspects of an industrial-like drilling site can be far more disturbing to the local communities than the hydraulic fracturing going on underground.

Greenwood dismissed the water contamination claims, but he did acknowledge that footprint impacts for local communities are real. “We need to make it clear to people that we can manage this, we’ve been doing this for 60 years and it is not a radical new technology,” he said. As for the community disruption, Greenwood said the industry needs to do a better job to explain to people signing leases that the drilling is an industrial process that does have an impact on the local areas involved.