MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
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And I'm Michele Norris.
The Obama administration made its case today in a New Orleans federal court. It's fighting a lawsuit over the government's moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. While the legal battle over the six-month ban is waged in court, it's stirred a political debate over what it means - both for the oil and gas industry, and for the people of the Gulf Coast.
Yesterday, we brought you the business side of that debate and whether or not the ban has meant the lost of oil rigs and jobs, as critics suggest. Today, NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on the Gulf Coast workers who depend on those jobs.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Deep in South Louisiana, about as far south as you can drive down Highway 1, is the equivalent of a small, industrial city embedded in the marshes of Bayou Lafourche.
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ELLIOTT: This is Port Fourchon, the epicenter of drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Every day, equipment, supplies and offshore workers come and go from this sea and air port.
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ELLIOTT: A Chevron helicopter lands, and a handful of workers tumble out with their bags and head for the highway back home.
The moratorium is a touchy subject around here. Most workers are reluctant to talk publicly. Some say their companies have asked them not to speak with reporters.
So far, two drilling rigs have moved out of the Gulf, but 30 others are now idle.
Ms. HEATHER SWANN (Boat Captain, Port Fourchon): There's just this big, big feeling of uncertainty.
ELLIOTT: Heather Swann captains a boat out of Port Fourchon. It takes groceries, equipment, and supplies like drilling mud and cement out to rigs in the Gulf.
Ms. SWANN: The offshore oil fleet, there's always a little bit of security to that - the U.S. needs oil; there's domestic oil; there's going to be rigs and drilling and production, and you're going to have a job for a long time. But right now, we've been getting a lot of questions from our company about who's got passports, where are you in your licensing?
ELLIOTT: The uncertainty has rippled through the oil-services industry, and put some workers in a difficult position as they consider what the moratorium can achieve.
Lavonne Martin, of Baton Rouge, works for a company that provides offshore medical care.
Ms. LAVONNE MARTIN: As an environmentalist, as a fisherman, as someone who loves our Louisiana coast, I understand it. However, as somebody who, you know, makes a living working in the oil industry, I'm very concerned about it and what the future, you know, economic impact may be.
ELLIOTT: The mass layoffs that some predicted haven't materialized yet, but that hasn't eased the tension in the homes of rig workers.
Every afternoon, a little before 4, Jeanette Tanguis sits down at her kitchen table in Houma, Louisiana, to have an online chat with her husband.
Ms. JEANETTE TANGUIS: He's slow. He just woke up. He's usually sitting there with his coffee and one eye open.
ELLIOTT: Ken Tanguis is getting ready to work the night shift as a mechanic on an idled, ultra-deepwater rig.
Ms. TANGUIS: You could probably eat off the floors - of the drill floor right now because they've all been just doing keep-busy, keep-it-clean work, because they're not drilling. It's frustrating for them because they want to be working, and they're not.
ELLIOTT: It's also hard on an oilfield wife. Jeanette Tanguis says they put off looking for a new house and are anxiously awaiting news about the contract for her husband's rig. She says her friends and neighbors are doing the same.
Ms. TANGUIS: We're not just, you know, poor oilfield trash. We're families that want to work. We don't want government assistance.
ELLIOTT: Joey Smith owns a company that makes hydraulic cranes and other heavy equipment used offshore. He says the whole industry is being punished for mistakes made on just one rig.
Mr. JOEY SMITH: Why not do it for everything, then? If an aircraft went down, shut it down 'til they fix - a coal mine, any sort of disaster like that. If it's a problem, shut them all down. That's kind of the feeling in the oilfield of it. You know, what's good for one is good for another.
ELLIOTT: Jeanette Tanguis says the Deepwater Horizon explosion did expose problems at the Minerals Management Service, but the moratorium is too much. She says most rig workers pride themselves on safety because their lives are at stake - something she thinks about every day when she signs off with her husband.
Ms. TANGUIS: I always tell him how, you know, I love him and have a good night, work safely. And in 33 years, he hasn't gotten hurt yet.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
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