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Federal authorities have given BP 72 hours to come up with sound contingency plans for the collection of gushing oil in the event of an operational failure or severe weather.

In a letter written Tuesday, the government’s on-scene administrator, Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Watson, instructed BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles to lay out a process for the continuous and safe recovery of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

“BP shall provide the plans for these parallel, continuous, and contingency collection processes, including an implementation timeline, within 72 hours of receiving this letter,” Watson wrote. “Current collection efforts may not be interrupted to implement these plans.”

On Capitol Hill, oil drilling issues took center stage on Day 51 of the disaster as lawmakers debated everything from safety to cleanup to liability.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Wednesday that a little more than 15,000 barrels of oil — more than 630,000 gallons — were recovered from the ruptured BP well in the 24-hour period ending at midnight Tuesday.