*$64 million dollar question … what’s worse than a gigantic oil spill? An even bigger one. New video evidence of massive plumes of oil spilling into the ocean is leading scientists to upgrade their estimates of daily leakage from the oft-repeated tally of 5,000 barrels to as much as four or five times that amount, or 20,000 to 25,000 bpd.

In addition, experts are criticizing BP for not using established scientific techniques to confirm the precise number.

“The government has a responsibility to get good numbers,” an oceanographer at Florida State University, Ian MacDonald told the New York Times. “If it’s beyond their technical capability, the whole world is ready to help them.”

The 5,000 bpd estimate was already five times higher than initial announcements by BP of 1,000 bpd. A barrel of oil contains 42 gallons. The Times also reports on the process by which drilling was approved for the rig, raising major questions about whether proper procedure was followed.

The federal Minerals Management Service gave BP and other oil companies the green light to drill in the Gulf despite their failure to obtain required permits from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration evaluating their environmental impact. “M.M.S. has given up any pretense of regulating the offshore oil industry,” Kierán Suckling, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, said.

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