DEBORAH AMOS, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Welcome back to the program, Deb. Renee Montagne is away.
We're going to report this morning on some of the long-term effects of a disaster. The Coast Guard commander says it will probably take until fall to completely seal a well leaking oil in the Gulf of Mexico. BP says it's making progress but, of course, that's many millions of gallons after the spill began.
In a moment, we'll hear what scientists are saying about the consequences far below the surface. First, we'll talk about jobs.
When President Obama visited Louisiana last Friday, he got an earful about his six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. People who depend on the oil industry say that could be a bigger economic blow than the spill itself.
NPR's John Ydstie reports.
(Soundbite of beeping)
Unidentified Man #1: Oh, yeah.
Unidentified Man #2: ...northbound here at seaport one, headed for slip eight, seaport one.
JOHN YDSTIE: The giant work boats maneuvering in the tight quarters of Port Fourchon, Louisiana are a lifeline for the drilling rigs and oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. But Joey Marshall, who captains the HOS Mystique, worries business will plummet because of the moratorium on deepwater drilling in U.S. waters.
Captain JOEY MARSHALL (HOS Mystique): We could be looking at a terrible downturn in our business because of it - a terrible downturn.
YDSTIE: Captain Marshall is standing in the wheelhouse of his 250-foot vessel. It's bristling with high-tech electronics. This boat's computerized thrusters allow it to hover directly over a point on the ocean floor, while its remotely operated vehicles build undersea pipelines or service drilling platforms. But the captain says work could be rare in the next six months.
Capt. MARSHALL: It's going to be devastating for a lot of my coworkers and family and extended family.
YDSTIE: So you feel like you could be out of work for an extended period of time.
Capt. MARSHALL: Yes.
YDSTIE: And it won't be just mariners like Captain Marshall or the roughnecks on the drilling rigs who suffer, says Shane Guidry. He's chairman and CEO of Harvey Gulf International Marine. Harvey Gulf owns a fleet of boats that service deepwater platforms and oceangoing tugs that pull drill rigs to locations around the world. From the window of his office on the 37th floor of the Shell building in downtown New Orleans, Guidry points to the French Quarter and the business district below.
Mr. SHANE GUIDRY (Chairman/CEO, Harvey Gulf International Marine): I tell you, it's going to be impacted by this drilling ban because, I mean, this is a hub. People use this airport. People use these hotels. That's all going to stop.
YDSTIE: There's no doubt that the oil and gas industry is the biggest player in Louisiana's economy. It accounts for about 16 percent of the state's GDP, according to the Tulane Energy Institute. Fishing is only one percent, and tourism four percent. So, says Guidry, the effect of the moratorium will ripple out through the businesses that support oil and gas.
Mr. GUIDRY: Guys that sell maintenance and repair, guys that sell engines -there's many banks out there who only loan money to the oil and gas sector. They're going to be affected. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. Carmakers - people won't be buying cars. Houses - people won't be able to buy houses, and the jobs to pay for it.
YDSTIE: Louisiana's economic development department estimates up to 20,000 jobs could be lost in this state over the next year or so because of the drilling ban. Experts at Tulane's Energy Institute even suggest the ripple effects could cause a double-dip recession in the United States. However, an analysis by Moody's Economy.com disputes that conclusion.
But Guidry argues the Gulf region, at least, could suffer for years. He says the big oil companies aren't going to sit in the Gulf of Mexico twiddling their thumbs while they pay half a million dollars a day for leases on idle drill rigs.
Mr. GUIDRY: I certainly wouldn't want to pay that for six months while I didn't know what the government was going to do next. I'd redeploy that into another area. And once I started drilling and got comfortable in that area and started finding big finds, why come back here?
YDSTIE: Ivor van Heerden, who's been a strong defender of Louisiana's coastal environment for decades, is skeptical the oil companies will leave.
Dr. IVOR VAN HEERDEN (Geologist, Marine Scientist): We've heard these sorts of things before. The oil is out there. There are fantastic deposits off coastal Louisiana in federal waters. And so I doubt they'll go away.
YDSTIE: Van Heerden also points out that production from deepwater and shallow-water wells will continue during the moratorium, so much of Louisiana's oil and gas industry will remain busy. He says the moratorium is necessary, even if it costs some jobs, to ensure proper practices are put in place that ensure this kind of spill never happens again.
That's essentially what President Obama told local officials during his visit to Grand Isle on Friday. But the president said if his commission studying the disaster issues its recommendations in less than six months, he'd be open to ending the moratorium early.
John Ydstie, NPR News.