How Much Oil is <i>Really</i> Gushing Into Gulf?

From day one of this crisis, the question no one's been able to answer for sure is how much oil is gushing into the Gulf?

As for how many thousands of gallons have been pouring out, there are all kinds of estimates and, as CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, plenty of reasons to doubt them.

(Scroll down to watch video of this report)

CBS News has learned the government's estimate of how much oil is gushing from the well could get much worse.

Last week, the Interior Department announced the range was 12,000 to 19,000 barrels -- or up to 798,000 gallons per day.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

But that is not exactly what some scientists who worked on the estimate found. Sources tell CBS News that the 12,000 to 19,000 barrels is actually the minimum leaking from the well based on the most conservative assumptions. The maximum upper range hasn't been released yet.

But those details were left off the official government press release, making it seem like 19,000 barrels a day was the most - not the least, that could be gushing out.

CBS News Investigates blog:
How The Oil Leak Estimates Got Low-Balled

The range matters because BP is subject to fines of up to $4,300 for each 42 gallon barrel. It could mean a difference of millions of gallons, and billions of dollars.

Under the government's low estimate (12,000 barrels a day), BP's fine could be $2 billion dollars for just the first 40 days.

If the spill is significantly larger, as sources suggest the fine could shoot upwards of $4 billion so far.

Today, facing the criticism that it was "spinning" the numbers, the Interior Department revised its Web site to acknowledge that scientists are working on it -- but have not yet released the "high end" of just how big the leak could be.

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