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

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Flanked by cabinet members and other administration officials overseeing the federal response to the blow-out, he lit into industry representatives who appeared at congressional hearings on the spill earlier this week.

"I did not appreciate what I consider to be a ridiculous spectacle during congressional hearings into this matter," he said. "You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else."

Nor did federal regulators escape the tongue-lashing. The president criticized what he termed "a cozy relationship" between oil companies and federal regulators in which "permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from oil companies" and oil companies exploited loopholes that "allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews," Obama said.

Part of the challenge – and the frustration – in coping with the blow-out lies in determining just how much oil the submarine gusher is releasing.

Official estimates from the federal government and BP, which owns the oil lease the Deepwater Horizon was working, place the leak rate at some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil a day. That alone is has been enough to trigger a regional emergency response.

But independent experts say the leak rate is likely to be much larger.

A week ago, Florida State University marine scientist Ian McDonald put the leak rate at around 25,000 barrels a day.

And in a report Friday morning, National Public Radio cited estimates from three independent scientists who say at least 50,000 barrels of oil a day are flowing into the Gulf waters. That would imply that the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be releasing at least the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill every five days.

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