Oil leak greater than first estimates, BP admits

BP admitted yesterday that considerably more oil could be spurting from its crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico than the 5,000 barrels a day that it had initially estimated.

BP said it was diverting 5,000 barrels a day from the well via a tube to a drillship on the surface, but that an unknown additional quantity was still leaking into the ocean.

It was the first time the company effectively acknowledged that the leak on the seabed was greater than originally estimated. Some scientists had already warned they did not believe the figure of 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) a day, saying 10 times that amount could be gushing into the environment.

BP engineers said they expected to start a so-called "top-kill" operation this weekend, involving pumping heavy drilling fluids and cement into the well. The chances of success are unclear. "Let's all keep our fingers crossed, let's all say our prayers," said US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, the federal government's coordinator with BP.

Meanwhile, officials in Louisiana confirmed that a thick goo from the slick had begun to coat some of the state's coastal wetlands at the tip of the Mississippi Delta. "These are not tar balls, this is not sheen," said Bobby Jindal, the state's governor. "This is heavy oil we are seeing."