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BP Oil Leak Rate Estimate Doubled

June 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The numbers out of the Gulf of Mexico painted an even darker picture of the oil disaster today. And they raised new questions about how large the cleanup job will have to be and how long it will take.

The magnitude of new estimates on the spill spread new urgency along the Gulf Coast today. It now appears the flow of oil before the damaged wellhead was capped may have been twice as much as originally thought.

In other words, since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank, more than 100 million gallons could have gushed into the Gulf. What’s more, the flow would have increased even more, at least for a time, when robot submersibles cut a damaged pipe last week.

In Washington, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen acknowledged hard numbers are still hard to come by.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. Coast Guard commandant: We’re going to be aggregating that and plus making adjustments for the — whatever increase there might have been after they cut in the riser pipe. We also are looking to put pressure gauges down on the blowout preventer and see if we can come up with an actual empirical way to take data from the pressure readings and corroborate what might have happened in the difference between the flow before and after the riser cut.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The upshot is an even graver threat to the Gulf’s animal and plant life. A Marine biologist at Texas A&M University warned today the environmental damage could be quadrupled. And oil continues to surge out of the mile-deep well, even though BP’s cap is now capturing more than 600,000 gallons a day.

Admiral Allen said today the oil company hopes to double its capacity by mid-July with a new hard cap system. It can siphon more than two million gallons a day.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN: The issue is for BP to move quickly to establish capacity and redundancy, so, as we’re able to increase the flow, they got the capacity to produce it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Thursday, Allen sent a letter to BP’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, inviting him to meet with President Obama at the White House next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the oil giant worked to preserve its business. Its stock bounced back in London today after taking a beating earlier in the week. And Svanberg defended his company after a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

CARL-HENRIC SVANBERG, chairman, BP: I think we have done everything else — you know, we have done everything we can to try to kill the well. And we have said that we would do everything expected from us in cleaning up the beach, taking care of all the claims, and learn from this as an incident — from this incident, and make the deep-sea drilling an even safer place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, The Wall Street Journal reported BP may cut or defer its second-quarter dividend in the face of rising damage claims. The oil giant took political heat in the U.S. over an earlier dividend.

British pension funds are heavily invested in BP, and Prime Minister Cameron insisted today it’s in everyone’s interests for the company to remain strong. He said he will discuss that issue and the environmental damage with President Obama in a phone call tomorrow.

Late today, White House officials confirmed the president will meet with BP’s chairman next Wednesday.