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HOUSTON Companies that ferry people and supplies to offshore oil rigs are asking a judge to overturn a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf.

The U.S. District Court judge, based in New Orleans, says he ll make a decision by mid-week.

The moratorium affects 33 projects that were under way when BP s Deepwater Horizon exploded, as well as the hundreds of companies that service them.

At the Alexander/Ryan Marine & Safety company on Houston s east side, business is booming at least for the moment. The company has seen a spike in orders for protective gear that s being used in clean-up efforts along the coast.

We re doing well for the wrong reasons, because we re supplying to the oil spill people rather than people operating oil rigs, said the company president, John Ryan, III.

In the long run, those people operating oil rigs are the bread and butter of Ryan s operation, which supplies lifeboats, as well as firefighting and other safety equipment used in offshore drilling.

If the units are not working, they re not going to use the personal protection equipment, said Ryan. They re not going to use the life-saving equipment. It s going to come to a grinding halt over a period of time.

Ryan says 60 percent of the company s annual revenue is generated by drilling in the Gulf. His is but one of hundreds of companies in Houston facing the same predicament.

Hundreds of companies, thousands of jobs and untold millions of dollars are at stake.

The dollar figure is going to run into tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, depending upon how long the moratorium lasts, said energy analyst Andrew Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates.

Alexander/Ryan is lucky, in that it s more diversified than many of its counterparts. Not even the biggest in the world could carry all of them to safety.

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