The Obama administration suffered a setback on Thursday in its efforts to keep its six-month ban on new deepwater drilling after the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
After overturning the ban this week, a federal judge in New Orleans rejected an administration request to put his decision on hold while the government appeals it.
The government, which can still ask an appeals court to stay Judge Martin Feldman's decision, is revising the ban to make it more flexible and possibly open some areas to drilling.
The judge's ruling was more unwelcome news for the administration, which has been on the defensive over what critics call a slow and ineffective response to the 66-day-old spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found half of those surveyed disapproved of President Barack Obama's handling of the spill. Overall his approval rating stood at 45 percent. For the first time in the survey, more people, or 48 percent, said they disapproved of his job performance. Another poll by the Pew Research Center found Obama's approval little changed at 48 percent compared to 49 percent in January 2010.
In Washington, the administration faced pressure from some Republican lawmakers to ease offshore drilling restrictions, imposed after a well owned by energy giant BP ruptured on April 20, spewing a torrent of oil into the sea.
At a Senate energy committee hearing, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said she was worried the owners of offshore rigs that have been idled by the moratorium will take their business out of the United States.
"We're starting to see what I'm calling this flight of investment from the Gulf," Murkowski told a hearing attended by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Oil services companies, who say the ban is too far-reaching and will lead to major layoffs, went to court this week to overturn the ban, leading to Feldman's ruling.
Salazar told the hearing he was aware of the moratorium's impact on the Gulf Coast economy, but it was necessary "until we get to a level where we can provide a sense of safety to the American people that drilling can in fact continue."
BP said on Thursday its oil-capture systems at the leak collected or burned off 16,830 barrels of oil on Wednesday, a 38 percent drop from its record rate of 27,100 on Tuesday due to a 10-hour shutdown of one of the systems. The shutdown happened when an underwater robot apparently hit a containment cap atop failed blowout preventer equipment that channels oil to a drillship a mile up on the water's surface, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
BP removed the cap Wednesday morning to assess its condition, then replaced it about 10 hours later. In the interim, crude gushed unchecked from the leak site.(Writing by Ross Colvin; Editing by Alan Elsner)
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