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Oil spill estimate too small

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

NEW ORLEANS -- BP conceded Thursday that more oil than it estimated is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as heavy crude washed into Louisiana's wetlands for the first time, feeding worries and uncertainty about the massive monthlong spill.

Mark Proegler, a spokesman for oil giant BP PLC, told The Associated Press that a mile-long tube inserted into a leaking pipe over the weekend is capturing 210,000 gallons a day -- the total amount the company and the Coast Guard have estimated is gushing into the sea -- but some is still escaping. He would not say how much.

Several professors who have watched video of the leak have said they believe the amount spewing out is much higher than official estimates.

Proegler said the 210,000 gallons -- 5,000 barrels -- has always been just an estimate because there is no way to measure how much is spilling from the seafloor.

''I would encourage people to take a look at the changing amount of oil coming from the ocean floor,'' said Steve Rinehart, another BP spokesman. ''It's pretty clear that now that we're taking 5,000 barrels of oil a day, there's a significant change in the flow reaching the sea.''

A live video feed of the leak posted online Thursday at the insistence of lawmakers shows what appears to be a large plume of oil and gas still spewing next to the tube that's carrying some of it to the surface. The House committee website where it was posted promptly crashed because so many people were trying to view it.

''What you see are real-time images of a real-world disaster unfolding 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf,'' said U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. ''These videos stand as a scalding, blistering indictment of BP's inattention to the scope and size of the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States.''

At least 6 million gallons have spilled so far, making it the worst U.S. environmental disaster in decade.

''This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now,'' Gov. Bobby Jindal said during a boat tour Wednesday in southeastern Louisiana. The wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi River are home to rare birds, mammals and a wide variety of marine life.

Much of southeast Louisiana's coastal waters have been closed to fishing and oyster harvesting because of the oil. A vast area stretching east toward Florida in federal waters also has been closed to seafood harvesting.

Officials in Florida sought to reassure tourists that the state's beaches are clean and safe as government scientists said a small portion of the slick had entered the so-called loop current, a stream of fast-moving water that circulates around the Gulf before bending around Florida and up the Atlantic coast.