NEW ORLEANS — Engineers reattached a cap on the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday night after crude oil spewed uncontrolled into the water for much of the day.
A crewmember aboard the Discoverer Enterprise, the ship that has been siphoning oil, told The Associated Press that the cap was placed back on the gusher around 9 p.m. EDT on Wednesday and is again capturing some of the crude. It had been off for more than 11 hours.
The man, who asked not to be identified by name because he was not authorized to provide the information, said it will take awhile for the system to "get ramped back up."
Most recently, it was sucking up about 29,000 gallons an hour and directing it to the ship. An undersea robot bumped the cap and BP engineers removed it because fluid seemed to be leaking, creating a possible safety hazard.
Earlier Wednesday, engineers had to completely uncap the broken well after an undersea robot bumped into machinery being used to collect the spilled fuel. Hundreds of thousands of gallons more poured into the water as crews scrambled to replace a critical component.
The mishap left nothing to stem the flow of oil at its source. A camera recording the well showed huge clouds of black fluid coming out of the sea floor.
Bob Dudley, the managing director of BP who is taking over the spill response, described the problem as "a disruption" and "a setback".
The problem, yet another in the nine-week effort to stop the gusher, came as thick pools of oil washed up on Pensacola Beach in Florida, and the Obama administration sought to resurrect a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.
Thick pools of oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico washed up along miles of Pensacola Beach Wednesday, prompting health officials to issue an advisory against swimming in the water.
Dozens of workers used shovels Wednesday to scoop up the oil and orange-tinged sand. There were a few sunbathers at the beach.
Tar balls have been reported as far west as Panama City and heavier oil is predicted to wash ashore farther east along the coastline in the coming days.
Officials also toured the beach. Gov. Charlie Crist said he called for more skimmers and was disheartened so much oil had slipped through the skimming operation.
Crist said the problem was the vast amount of the coastline that had to be protected.
Also Wednesday, Kenneth Feinberg said he would step down from his role as U.S. Treasury's "pay czar" later this summer to focus on administering the BP Plc's $20 billion oil spill fund, a Treasury spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Treasury did not provide a specific date for Feinberg's departure.
He was named last week to administer the fund, which BP agreed to set up under Obama administration pressure to pay damage claims from the Gulf Coast oil spill.
The current worst-case estimate of what's spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day. Anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the well 5,000 feet underwater. BP PLC was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.
Another 438,000 gallons was burned on the surface by the other system that was not affected by the cap problem. BP is also developing a system to pull oil up to a second ship that should be in place by the end of the month, Nicholas said.Video: Feds at loggerheads with La. over cleanup (on this page)
In Florida, residents and officials watched as tar balls contaminated their beaches and waters.
Park rangers in the Gulf Islands National Seashore helped to rescue an oily young dolphin found beached in the sand.
Ranger Bobbie Visnovske said a family found the dolphin Wednesday, and wildlife officers carried it into shallow water for immediate resuscitation. They later transported it to a rehabilitation center in Panama City, about 100 miles to the east.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration asked for a delay of U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's ruling overturning a moratorium on new drilling. Feldman, ruling in New Orleans, said the government simply assumed that because one rig exploded, the others pose an imminent danger, too.
Feldman, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, has reported extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, including owning less than $15,000 of Transocean stock, according to financial disclosure reports for 2008, the most recent available. He did not return calls seeking more information about his investments.
The Interior Department imposed the moratorium last month in the wake of the BP disaster, halting approval of any new permits for deepwater projects and suspending drilling on 33 exploratory wells.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement that within the next few days he would issue a new order imposing a moratorium that eliminates any doubt it is needed and appropriate.
"It's important that we don't move forward with new drilling until we know it can be done in a safe way," he told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.
The Associated Press, Reuters and NBC News contributed to this report.