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As Obama scolds BP, debate brews over how much oil is leaking

Government and BP estimates of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico are too low, say scientists. Some equate the flow to one Exxon Valdez spill every five days.

President Obama, standing with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, remarks on effort to stop the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday in Washington.

Susan Walsh/AP

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As crude oil pours into the Gulf of Mexico from a drill-rig blowout nearly a mile beneath the sea surface, the frustration at the slow pace of mitigation efforts is palpable – from the president of the United States to marine scientists trying to gauge the true scope of the problem and its likely short and long-term effects.

The spill and efforts to deal with it "in some sense is one big experiment," says Arthur Mariano, an oceanographer at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.

Up to now, no one has had to deal with a spill this large at this depth – some 5,000 feet below the surface. The blow-out occurred April 20, its explosion and fire killing 11 workers and sinking the Deepwater Horizon, the drilling platform for an exploratory well some 40 miles off the Louisiana coast.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

Moreover, the complexities of the ocean environment the oil is entering make efforts to project the plume's spread difficult, Dr. Mariano says. And the broader effects of using hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants – some of which are being applied deep undersea at the wellhead – are unclear.

President Obama vented his frustration Friday during a statement to the press he issued from the White House Rose Garden.


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