In what might be the most serious setback to date in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis, scientists have suggested that the rate at which the spill is growing could be double the original estimation.

Marcia McNutt, United States Geological Survey Director and leader of the Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) monitoring the spill, said the best estimate for the average flow rate of the leak could be as high as 40,000 barrels per day.

If indeed the true flow rate is 40,000 barrels per day, it would imply that 1.7 million gallons of oil have been flowing daily out of the ruptured well of the British Petroleum-owned Deepwater Horizon offshore rig.

The rig exploded on April 22, killing 11 people, and has been spewing out vast amounts of oil into the Gulf since then. It has already caused extensive damage to marine life and eroded the incomes of those dependent on it, particularly in Louisiana where the oil slick has swamped the state’s fragile coastal marshlands.

Researchers had earlier estimated the amount of oil escaping into the Gulf at between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels — 504,000 to 798,000 gallons — per day. During the most recent attempt to halt and divert the flow, by cutting well’s riser pipe and placing a cap on the well, the experts had said that the rate flow had increased by 4 to 5 per cent.

The latest estimates were, according to Dr. McNutt, based on “additional video that BP was directed to provide” and calculated the lower and upper bound range estimates for a period of time before the Riser Insertion Tube Tool was inserted and before the riser was cut. The scientist team further cautioned that the estimates depended on “limited data available and the small amount of time to process that data”.

Meanwhile BP reported on the containment process currently underway, which has entailed the use of a lower marine riser package (LMRP) containment cap to collect oil and gas flowing from the MC252 well and transport them to the Discoverer Enterprise drillship on the surface.

In an update the company said, “In the first 12 hours of June 9 (midnight to noon), approximately 7,920 barrels of oil were collected and 15.7 million cubic feet of natural gas were flared. On June 8, a total of approximately 15,000 barrels of oil were collected and 29.4 million cubic feet of natural gas were flared.”

BP continues to face pressure from the Obama administration to not only halt and mop up the leak but also compensate fishermen and others along the Gulf coastline for loss of income. On Thursday it announced a second round of block grants of $25 million each to the states of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.