New Estimates Put Oil Flow Rate Significantly Higher

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    A boat uses a boom and absorbent material to soak up oil in Cat Bay, near Grand Isle, La., on June 28. A tropical storm is expected to hit the Gulf and impede cleanup efforts.
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    Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole Rome Crist (right) stand with others during a Hands Across the Sand event June 26 in Pensacola, Fla. The event was staged across the nation to protest offshore oil drilling.
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    Oil clouds the surface of Barataria Bay near Port Sulpher, La., on June 19.
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    Workers adjust piping while drilling a relief well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
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    A dolphin rises up out of the water near Grand Terre Island off the coast of Louisiana on June 14.
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    President Obama stands with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (right) and Gulfport, Miss., Mayor George Schloegel after meeting with residents affected by the oil spill.
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    Crude oil washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala., on June 12. Oil slicks, 4 to 6 inches thick in some parts, have washed up along the Alabama coast.
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    A volunteer uses a toothbrush to clean an oil-covered white pelican at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, La., June 9.
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    A shrimp boat skims oil from the surface of the water just off Orange Beach, Ala., as a family enjoys the surf. Oily tar balls have started washing up on Orange Beach and beaches in the western Florida panhandle.
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    Sand from a dredge is pumped onto East Grand Terre Island, La., to provide a barrier against the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, June 8.
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    A dead turtle floats on a pool of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Barataria Bay off the coast of Louisiana on June 7.
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    Workers use absorbent pads to remove oil that has washed ashore from the spill in Grand Isle, La., June 6.
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    Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts an oil-covered pelican out of the water on Queen Bess Island in Plaquemines Parish, La., June 5.
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    Heavy oil pools along the side of a boom just outside Cat Island in Grand Isle, La., June 6.
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    President Obama walks alongside Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle (from right), U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response to the spill, and Chris Camardelle after meeting with local business owners in Grand Isle, La., June 4.
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    A brown pelican sits on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast after being drenched in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, June 3.
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    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the BP oil spill. With him, from left: Stephanie Finley and Jim Letten, U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana; Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Tony West, assistant attorney general, Civil Division; and Don Burkhalter, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
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    The oil slick off the coast of Louisiana, seen from above.
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    A worker leaves the beach in Grand Isle, La., on May 30. BP is turning to yet another mix of undersea robot maneuvers to help keep more crude oil from flowing into the Gulf.
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    Protesters cover themselves with a water and paint mixture during a demonstration at a BP gas station in New York City on May 28.
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    Workers clean up oil in Pass a Loutre, La. The latest attempt to plug the leak was unsuccessful.
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    Residents listen to a discussion with parish officials and a BP representative on May 25 in Chalmette, La. Officials now say that it may be impossible to clean the hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands affected by the massive oil spill.
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    An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral it on an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. The island, which is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, is impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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    A sign warns the public to stay away from the beach on Grand Isle, La. Officials closed the oil-covered beaches to the public indefinitely on Saturday.
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    Pelican eggs stained with oil sit in a nest on an island in Barataria Bay on May 22.
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    A bird flies over oil that has collected on wetlands on Elmer's Island in Grand Isle, La., May 20. The oil came inland despite oil booms that were placed at the wetlands' mouth on the Gulf of Mexico.
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    Members of the Louisiana National Guard build a land bridge at the mouth of wetlands on Elmer's Island.
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    The hands of boat captain Preston Morris are covered in oil after collecting surface samples from the marsh of Pass a Loutre, La., on May 19.
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    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser (right) tour the oil-impacted marsh of Pass a Loutre, La. "This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," said Jindal.
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    BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay (left), with Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman (center) and Applied Science Associates Principal Deborah French McCay, testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing May 18 on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill.
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    This undated frame grab image received from BP and provided by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee shows details of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has agreed to display a live video feed of the oil gusher on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee's website beginning Thursday evening.
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    President Obama speaks with local fishermen about how they are affected by the oil spill in Venice, La., on May 2.
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    Danene Birtell with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research tends to a Northern Gannet in Fort Jackson, La., on April 30. The bird, normally white when full grown, is covered in oil from the oil spill.
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    Since the explosion, a third oil leak has been discovered in the blown-out well.
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    In this aerial photo taken April 21 more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns.
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    Tendrils of oil mar the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in this satellite image taken Monday. An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day are seeping into the Gulf, after an explosion last week on a drilling rig about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
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Researchers studying the flow of oil from the blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico say as much as twice the amount of oil as previously thought may have been spewing into the sea.

U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt said Thursday that as many as 50,000 barrels — or 2.1 million gallons — of oil may have been flowing daily from the Deepwater Horizon well before the riser was cut on June 3 as part of BP's latest containment effort. No estimates were given for the amount of oil gushing from the well after the June 3 riser cut.

The government has previously estimated that 12,000 to 25,000 barrels of oil — or 504,000 to 1.05 million gallons a day — had been leaking from the well before the riser cut.

The U.S. official overseeing the response to the spill, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, has asked BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to meet with President Obama next week. It will be the first time Obama meets directly with BP officials since the rig explosion.

In a letter to Svanberg, Allen said the administration was "not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods."

Planet Money

Administration officials said Thursday that BP has agreed to expedite its claims payments to Gulf Coast residents suffering economic hardship as a result of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Tracey Wareing of the National Incident Command office said officials raised a "pressing concern" in meetings Wednesday about the amount of time it takes to process claims payments. She said BP will change the way it handles claims, including dropping the current practice of waiting to make such payments until businesses have closed their books for each month.

BP also was urged to provide "clearer public information on the entire life cycle of the claims process," Wareing said at a news conference in Washington.

BP officials have been forced to defend the company's handling of individual claims to shrimpers, oystermen, seafood businesses, out-of-work drilling crews and the tourism industry — all of which have suffered as a result of the thick brown crude that has fouled the Gulf of Mexico and begun washing ashore in coastal communities.

"Every day, we call the adjuster eight or 10 times. There's no answer, no answering machine," said Regina Shipp, who has filed $33,000 in claims for lost business at her restaurant in Alabama. "If BP doesn't pay us within two months, we'll be out of business. We've got two kids."

But the company has acknowledged that while no claims have been denied, thousands and thousands had not been paid as of late last week because the company required more documentation.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country stands ready to help BP with its cleanup efforts following the April 20 rig explosion that triggered the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Making his first public comments about the crisis, Cameron said he would raise the issue of British government assistance with President Obama when they next spoke.

"This is an environmental catastrophe. BP needs to do everything it can to deal with the situation, and the U.K. government stands ready to help," Cameron told reporters during a visit to Afghanistan.

"I completely understand the U.S. government's frustration. The most important thing is to try to mitigate the effects and get to grips with the problem. It's something I will discuss with the American president when we next talk."

As the scale of the disaster — its economic impact on Gulf states as well as damage to wildlife and delicate ecosystems — grows ever larger, Congress was stepping up scrutiny of the accident with hearings Thursday on the spill's short- and long-term impact on humans and animals.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the White House will make sure that BP bears the full cost of cleanup and damages from the spill.

"I can take this pledge to the American people ... that BP will be held responsible for all damages that have occurred," Holder said at a Washington news conference. "We will take necessary steps to make sure that occurs."

Obama said after meeting with congressional leaders at the White House that U.S. legislation should be updated to make sure that the Gulf is "made whole." In an apparent reference to a $75 million cap on economic claims under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Obama said he was "pleased to see bipartisan agreement" to deal with the crisis in a "forward-looking way."

Obama met Thursday with families of the 11 oil workers killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. At a news conference afterward, the relatives said they were satisfied the president and lawmakers would help them get just compensation for their losses.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would return to the Gulf coast region early next week.

At the bottom of the sea, the containment cap on the leaking well is capturing 630,000 gallons a day and pumping it to a ship at the surface, and the amount could nearly double by next week to roughly 1.17 million gallons, the Coast Guard has said.

After Wednesday's steep losses, shares of BP rose more than 10 percent Thursday in New York as markets began to heed warnings from analysts who said the sell-off was an overreaction. But at $32.20, the shares are still trading at levels last seen 14 years ago.

The latest drop came after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised a Senate energy panel to ask BP to compensate energy companies for losses if they have to lay off workers or suffer economically because of the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling.

BP has lost around half its market value since the spill began. In a federal filing Thursday, the company said the cost of its response to the oil spill has grown to $1.43 billion.

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