A U.S. federal judge has promised to decide by Wednesday whether to lift a six-month government-imposed moratorium on deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
President Barack Obama issued the ban on May 27 in response to the explosion and fire that killed 11 people on a drilling platform and left an underwater oil well in the Gulf gushing uncontrollably.
Critics of the temporary ban, including oil companies and politicians, say it will put thousands of oil employees out of work and further devastate the region's economy. But a government lawyer told the federal judge in New Orleans Monday the oil rig disaster was a "game-changer" that forced the government to craft and implement new safety procedures.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has sent oil company BP a bill for $51 million for government expenses incurred in the effort to plug the gushing well.
A White House announcement Monday said this is the third such bill sent to BP. It said the previous two bills, totaling nearly $71 million, have been paid in full.
The new invoice lists charges for the cost of response to the spill by federal agencies and several state agencies. Expenses also include payments to the trust fund set up by the government to reimburse people and businesses for damages resulting from the spill.
BP said earlier Monday that it has spent $2 billion responding to the massive oil leak.
The company last week agreed to establish a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the disaster.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said Monday that construction remains ahead of schedule on the relief wells aimed at stopping the leak. He said up to 60,000 barrels of oil are gushing from the ruptured well each day, although a more precise figure will not be known until a system with no leakage is in place on the broken well.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.