“That is the big unknown that we’re trying to hone in and get the exact numbers on,” Mr. Allen, President Obama's point man on the spill, told reporters Monday. “And we’ll make those numbers known as we get them. We’re not trying to low-ball it or high-ball it. It is what it is.”
The question of how much oil is leaking has been crucial from Day 1 of the crisis. Since BP is liable for every barrel spilled, its estimates have been viewed with skepticism and even ridicule. A NOAA flow-rate group eventually raised the original BP estimate of 5,000 barrels per day, placing it between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day. Others have said it's really more, perhaps as much as 30,000 barrels per day.
Considering the questions about earlier estimates and the increased flow from the cut riser pipe, at least one expert – Ira Leifer, a member of the government's Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) – believes the current flow could be greater than before. The group had estimated a 20 percent increase in the flow after the cut of the riser pipe.
“The well pipe clearly is fluxing way more than it did before,” Dr. Leifer, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, tells The New York Times. “By way more, I don’t mean 20 percent, I mean multiple factors.”