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C'mon, how big is the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, really?

Official estimates for the flow of oil out of the Deepwater Horizon well may be just a drop in the bucket. Critics call for release of worst-case scenario data to describe the oil spill disaster.

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Officials say measuring the outflow is extremely difficult – like trying to gauge by eye the amount of water spurting from a leaky garden hose.

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The Obama administration, which only a month ago proposed opening up new coastal areas for oil exploration, has put on hold all new exploratory drilling along the US continental shelf and is now fighting to stay ahead of what sociologist Steven Picou at the University of South Alabama calls a "monster catastrophe that boggles the mind."

A government report obtained by the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register explains that "choke points" in the crumpled riser are controlling the flow from the so-called Macondo well at Lease Block 252 in the Mississippi Canyon. But scrubbing action from sand in the oil is further eroding the pipe. There are likely tens of millions of gallons in the deposit that BP tapped with the Deepwater Horizon.

"The following is not public," reads National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Emergency Response document dated April 28, according to the Press-Register. "Two additional release points were found today. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought."
An order of magnitude is a factor of 10.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that John Amos, an oil industry consultant, said that NOAA revised its original estimate of 1,000 barrels after he published calculations based on satellite data that showed a larger flow.

The 5,000 barrels a day is the "extremely low end" of estimates, Mr. Amos told the Journal.

"There's a range of uncertainty, and it's very difficult to accurately gauge how much there is," BP spokesman John Curry told the Journal.

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