How Much Oil is Really Leaking Into the Gulf?

Oil under the water with Bulent gfx.
From the beginning, the Obama administration has insisted it is in charge of the response to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Wednesday, the President's point man, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, told BP he wants to monitor the company's process of paying out claims. And he demanded BP come up with a better plan for capturing the oil from the broken well.

Allen says BP's containment system is now capturing 630,000 gallons of oil a day, but plenty is still gushing out.

Read Adm. Allen's Letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward
Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

How much? That's a multi-billion dollar question because BP will be fined based on the amount of oil that leaks.

The official answer to how big the leak is keeps getting put off reports CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. For the first time, BP gave high resolution video to scientists trying to figure it out, but it's still holding back other material.

"Our estimate should be independent of BP," says Purdue University professor Steve Wereley. "We should take them out of the process."

Senators fired off a letter telling BP it "must not hinder" or "undermine(d)" a "truly independent" estimate.

Meantime, there's mistrust over another issue: oil lingering unseen beneath the surface.

It's marine scientists from gulf state universities - not the government or BP - who have been flagging giant undersea plumes for weeks. University of Georgia researchers found one three miles wide.

The University of South Florida found an even bigger one.

But BP, responsible for managing the fall-out, appears to be in a perpetual state of denial. They insist all the oil is on top.

"The oil is on the surface," said BP CEO Tony Hayward on May 30.

BP COO Doug Suttles echoed that sentiment to CBS News Early Show anchor Harry Smith Wednesday. Asked directly by Smith if he believed the underwater plumes existed, Suttles said, "Harry, no one has found any large concentrations of oil beneath the surface."

Smith responded, "So scientists are making it up?"

"All we can know for certain is what we measured," said Suttles.

Environmentalist Philippe Cousteau says, "I think it's irresponsible for them to be denying that."

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Critics say the best information isn't coming from BP or the government's unified command too often.

"I had one of the state's scientists tell me that they have discovered oil just a few miles from the well head," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "It's miles long as a plume."

If BP is behind the curve on subsea oil, not everyone is.

CBS News has learned that a proposal to track undersea oil went to the Coast Guard nearly five weeks ago. It would use modified navy sonobuoys.

The real-time maps would communities their best shot at getting resources in place. Florida officials endorsed the idea but backers were stunned by the response the Coast Guard gave: BP was calling the shots.

"This spill is still being totally funded by BP," the Coast Guard replied in an e-mail May 9th. "And anything that gets executed must go through them."

BP is also managing what people see online. The company has paid to have its website show up in the ad section when people Google terms such as "oil spill" and "claims."

BP wouldn't say how much it's paying to have its website show up in searches. President Obama has already criticized the company for spending $50 million on television ads to boost its image.