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Federal Judge Blocks Obama Administration Offshore Drilling Ban

A U.S. federal judge has blocked a six-month moratorium on offshore oil drilling ordered by the Obama administration, and the White House says it will immediately appeal the ruling.

New Orleans Judge Martin Feldman made the ruling on Tuesday. He is reversing a ban imposed by U.S. President Barack Obama May 27 in response to the explosion and fire that killed 11 people on a drilling platform and caused the massive, on-going oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In announcing the appeal, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president strongly believes, as the administration argued before the judge Monday, that continuing to drill at great depths without knowing what caused the current spill does not make any sense.

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 Gulf region's economy.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters Tuesday that oil company BP had captured or burned off nearly 26,000 barrels of oil as of midnight Monday - more than in any previous 24-period since the crisis began.

Allen says BP hopes to increase its capacity to contain leaking oil from the well to 53,000 barrels per day by next week.

The U.S. government has estimated up to 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking from the ruptured well each day.

Allen also says officials are closely watching tropical weather in the area and are planning contingencies in the event of a hurricane or other serious storm.

He says it would take three to seven days to disconnect the containment vessels currently working at the site.

Admiral Allen also says officials are now considering a worst-case scenario in which oil from the leaking well could be pumped to a currently unused platform via a pipeline. That oil could then either be produced or piped back into an underground reservoir.

On Monday, the Obama administration sent BP a bill for $51 million for government expenses incurred in the effort to plug the gushing well.

The new invoice lists charges for the costs incurred by federal agencies and several state agencies for responding to the spill. 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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.