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HOUSTON -- The federal ban on offshore deepwater drilling has sent fear through Houston.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker worried it was an over-reaction.

And we don t want to, I would say, throw the baby out with the bathwater, the mayor said last week.

The drilling industry is making dire predictions of lost jobs.

From 25,000 to 80,000 people, predicted Dr. Lee Hunt with the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

Will it be that bad?

The search for answers brought us to the corridor along FM 529 andwest of Highway 290, near Jersey Village. It is Houston s biggest concentration of factories. They make and assemble oil-drilling equipment --everything from pipe to rigs to the underwater robots you ve seen trying to fix the BP leak.

Alongside the factories is a Mexican restaurant called Manuel s. It s where many of the workers come to eat.

It s kind of slowed down for lunch, said Edith Avellandeda, the daughter of the restaurant s owner.

She said she thinks it s because workers are unsure of their future and are cutting back on eating out.

Before the blowout, their lunch business had been good, just like the oil business.

The total number of drilling rigs working on land and offshorehit its most recent highin 2008.Then with the recession, drilling dropped like a rock. But in the past year, it s rebounded, shooting up over 70 percent. That meansmore rigs working and more jobs for Houston.

Yes, it s been good, I think everyone s had a good time, one worker having a plate of tacos said.

But will the good times end with drilling halted for at least six months in the Gulf?

It s a terrible thing that happened out there. The moratorium only makes it worse, another person commented.

How much worse is debatable, because the big players in the energy exploration business are starting to make other plans as the moratorium threatens their bank accounts.

Where that moratorium is already being felt is at companies, including Anadarko in The Woodlands. Like BP, it s an operator, bankrolling the big, expensive deepwater projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

Anadarko had four rigs working in the Gulf, rigs it rented from other companies including Noble Drilling and Transocean. But Anadarko has told those companies it wants out of those contracts.

Anadarko said in a news release it s ...to protect the interest of its shareholders during the moratorium.

Renting a rig can cost a half a million dollars a day.

With the federal government ordering rigs not to drill, the operators footing the bill don t want to be liable. But rig owners are rejecting Anadarko s attempts to break contracts.

NobleDrilling said in a news release it plans to enforce its contractual rights.

It all could end up in court as the companies try to protect their interests. And experts said there are few, if any, precedents.

This is definitely an uncommon occurrence, said Robert Ballentine, a Houston attorney specializing in drilling contracts at the firm Burleson Cook.

He said it's disruptiveto the business, which can translate into lost revenue and --potentially --layoffs.

Or will it? NobleDrilling said it s trying to work with operators and the government so it can continue doing limited drilling work that would keep its crews busy, but that would not violate the ban.

We ve had no layoffs, yet. We re looking for other work, a spokesperson at Noble said.

Another big drilling contractor is Diamond Offshore. Contrary to the dire predictions about the moratorium effects, its CEO is quoted by the New York Times as predicting no more than 20,000 jobs are temporarily at risk nationwide.

Back at Manuel s Mexican Restaurant, they re hoping the optimists are right so that their kitchen and the drilling business can do as well as they both did before the blowout.

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