Government under Fire for Oil Flow Estimates

The new estimates, up to 1.6 million gallons per day, means up to 800 percent more oil could be gushing from the well than BP and the government first said. It's easy to understand why that surprised a lot of people. The government's top authorities on the spill, the Interior Department and Coast Guard Cmdr. Thad Allen, repeatedly minimized the numbers put out by scientists starting with the very first press release two weeks ago, reports CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

"I'm not really happy with the press release and how it reads," said Purdue University Professor Steven Wereley. "I have heard it mischaracterized."

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Now, there's a second group of unhappy experts. They say the government mischaracterized their work, too. They were tasked with reviewing the government's 30-day assessment of the oil spill. Problem is, after they approved the paper - somebody changed it. In the changed version, it looked like the outside experts endorsed the six-month blanket moratorium on offshore drilling the government wants.

"This is not the case," wrote seven of the experts in a strong letter of rebuttal. "A moratorium ... was never agreed to by the contributors ... unfortunately after the review the conclusion was modified." They added that Interior Secretary Salazar "should not be free to use our names to justify his political decisions."

Salazar was asked about the flap at a hearing.

CBS News Investigates Blog: BP Rig Missed 16 Inspections Before Explosion

"The moratorium was added after the final review and was never agreed to by the contributors," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

Salazar didn't say who changed the report, but acknowledged the discrepancy.

"It was not their decision on the moratorium," Salazar said. "It was my decision and the president's decision to move forward with the moratorium."

All of this serves to add to a sense of mistrust of not just what BP says, but what top government officials are telling the public.

More coverage:
Oil Spill's Damage Far Greater than Once Thought
Bloomberg Urges Critics to Go Easier on BP
Oil Spill Draws Volunteers, But Few Put to Work
Adm. Thad Allen in Hot Seat over Spill
With Gulf Oil Flow, Bad Keeps Getting Worse
Local Oil Spill Leaders Vent on Washington
Has Gulf Disaster Caused Brit Bashing?
BP Execs Invited to Obama Meeting

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.