Scientists said Tuesday the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill could be worse than previously estimated.
"U.S. government and independent scientists estimate that the most likely flow rate of oil ... is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day," said a statement from the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. "The improved estimate is based on more and better data that is now available and that helps increase the scientific confidence in the accuracy of the estimate."
One barrel is approximately 42 gallons, making the spill between 1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons per day. Previous estimates put the maximum size of the spill at 2.2 million gallons per day.
New Head For MMS
Also Tuesday, President Obama announced his selection of Michael Bromwich, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, to lead the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that oversees oil and gas development and has been accused of lax oversight and conflicts of interest.
The administration wants to break the MMS into three separate entities to eliminate conflicts of interest.
"He has a mandate to implement far-reaching change and will have the resources to accomplish that change," the White House said in a statement.
Last month, Elizabeth Birnbaum stepped down as director of the MMS, a job she had held since July, after criticism of the agency following the deadly explosion of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
The announcement comes the same day Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office about the efforts to stop the flow of oil and the recovery efforts in the Gulf.
Meanwhile, BP is under pressure to accelerate the pace of the cleanup.
A House panel on Tuesday grilled executives from major oil companies, including BP, about what lawmakers called the industry's "cookie-cutter" preparations for disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico spill.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told NPR that memos, e-mails and documents released by congressional investigators this week illustrate the risks BP took that led to the disaster.
"There were a number of occasions when they could have avoided what happened," Waxman told NPR's Michele Norris. "Instead, in each and every case, they took the path that was least costly and fastest for them, therefore obviously more profitable, and that resulted in excessive risk."
Containment Briefly Interrupted
Meanwhile, the British energy giant's operation to stem the flow of oil was interrupted for about five hours Tuesday following a fire caused by a bolt of lightning that shut down the containment.
BP spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press that containment operations resumed at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday. He said the containment cap that had been capturing the leaking oil was not damaged by the fire and the system was shut down as a precaution.
BP said the fire was spotted around 9:30 a.m. on a drill ship called the Discoverer Enterprise, where engineers are siphoning about 630,000 gallons of oil a day through a cap on top of the well. The fire was quickly extinguished; no one was injured.
The fire happened as Obama was in Florida as part of a two-day visit to the stricken Gulf Coast. It also came a day after the British energy giant announced that it hoped to trap as much as roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil daily by the end of June as it deploys additional containment equipment.
BP has been beefing up its containment efforts with the hurricane season in mind, building a sturdier system that can withstand the volatile weather that is so common in the Gulf in the summer months.
The Coast Guard has taken BP to task for not having enough redundancies in the system to be able to shift gears in events such as Tuesday's lightning strike.
Spokesman Robert Wine said company hopes to soon start a second containment system — a burner on a semi-submersible drilling rig that could incinerate up to 420,000 gallons of oil a day. The company had hoped to start the system as early as Tuesday.
Scientists have estimated that anywhere between about 40 million gallons to more than 100 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf since a drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Though the latest cap installed the well has been capturing oil, large quantities are still spilling into the sea.
The company said it would use robotic submarines to survey the entire containment system, including the cap over the well, for possible damage from the fire. The fire occurred in a vent pipe leading from a tank on the Enterprise where processed oil is stored, Wine said.
Louisiana has been hit with several storms and lightning strikes in the past day.