Despite End Of Drilling Ban, Uncertainty Remains
The Obama administration on Tuesday lifted the deep-water drilling moratorium it imposed in May after the BP oil well explosion, but drilling isn't expected to resume immediately and rig workers remain in limbo.
Ken Tanguis and his wife, Jeanette, live in Houma, La., a small city south of New Orleans, in the heart of Cajun swamp country that has long depended on fishing and the oil industry.
For most of his life, Tanguis has been a mechanic for Diamond Offshore Drilling, one of the world's largest drilling companies. Since the spring, his rig and others have been shut down, but he is still on the payroll.
Like many others, he is doing maintenance work, though there isn't much to do. Diamond laid off more than 300 workers, including about 50 on Tanguis' rig, and that has hit him hard.
"You always have it in the back of your mind. You know that while you're home that phone could ring, you look on there, Diamond Offshore would be on there, and do I answer or don't answer, you know?" he says, laughing.
Tanguis, 53, works on a rig called the Ocean Monarch. He says many of the rigs are offshore waiting, including three deep-water rigs and five jack-up rigs.
"We're just waiting on work," he says.
Despite the moratorium being lifted, Tanguis' wife says life is on hold.
"You don't buy anything because what's going to happen? Is he going to go back to work?" she asks. "You think about it all the time. That's what's the worst part ... it hangs over your head."
Since the moratorium, Ken Tanguis has worked three weeks on and three weeks off.
Jeanette Tanguis says each time her husband goes to work, they hope he will get three weeks more.
"You know, it's hard living like that," she says.
Outside the family's suburban ranch-style home, several yard signs show their support for the New Orleans Saints. And one red-and-white sign shows their opposition to the moratorium that was imposed in May.
Tanguis knows he makes a good living. He still gets his regular salary of about $100,000 a year. But because he doesn't know when drilling will begin, he says he is still worried.
"How easy is it going to be for me to find another job? Who's going to want to hire somebody, you know, middle-aged guy?" he asked. "And who's going to pay me the amount of money I'm making now?
"Granted, I would take whatever I could get, but at the same time it's like, am I going to wind up having to lose my house?"
He says he has noticed more for-sale signs in the neighborhood over the past week.
"It's people leaving because of the oil field. ... I mean, it's just -- it's scary," his wife says.
Hundreds of oil and gas workers have lost their jobs since the moratorium. Others have been reassigned to rigs outside the U.S.
At least four deep-water rigs have left the Gulf of Mexico, and it will be years before they could return. Diamond alone has moved three rigs out of the Gulf and sent them to Congo, Egypt and Brazil.
The Tanguises were relieved that the moratorium was lifted, but Ken says he has no clue how long it will take for companies to get new permits and for the industry to be up and running again. He says he is still worried that companies will cut more employees.
"I don't want a handout from the government," he says. "I don't want a handout from BP. I don't want anything. I just want to go back to work. I want to go back to drilling."
Tanguis worked on a rig overseas years ago and vowed that he wouldn't do it again because he wants to stay close to home. But as the uncertainty drags on, he says he'd take that option rather than lose his job altogether. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.