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Because the natural gas infrastructure is so vast, it is not possible to measure every leak from every faulty valve or fitting. Indeed, we don’t even have accurate estimates of the total number of valves and fittings. The best way to estimate the total amount of methane emissions from the natural gas infrastructure is to perform as many measurements as possible from as many different types of components as possible. The reason that one has to perform hundreds or even thousands of measurements from each type of equipment is so that you can capture the high-emitting sources (the so-called super-emitters), which are low in number but their emissions are so high that they can account for 50% to 80% of the total emissions.

The Obama-era regulations were put in place in 2016 to set emissions limits for methane from a variety of sources in the oil and gas industry. The 2016 regulations built upon previous regulations put in place in 2012 for emissions of volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOCs), which are nonmethane hydrocarbon gases produced by oil and gas operations. The companies that had installed controls for VOC emissions sources were not required to install any new controls because reduction in VOC emissions also reduce methane emissions.

The EPA estimates that the proposed new amendments would save the oil and gas industry $17 to $19 million per year. While this may sound like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the economic value to be gained by minimizing leakage. We estimate that reducing methane emissions from 2.3% to 1% would result in an annual revenue of over a half billion dollars per year, which is more than 30 times the estimated savings from rolling back the regulations. Many oil and gas companies recognize this fact, and they also recognize that regulations are needed to ensure that all companies are held to the same standard.