If you're an investor in the oil services space, this is exactly what you didn't need.

The top dog in the deepwater drilling space, Transocean (NYSE:RIG), not only missed the estimates for this quarter, but also put out pretty negative guidance for the first half of this year -- as if energy investors weren't already hurting enough from the recent free fall in natural gas prices.

Looking at the fourth-quarter results, Transocean reported that revenue rose 14% over last year, but only 1% from the third quarter. Dayrates were fine -- up 21% annually and 6% sequentially on a company-wide basis (excluding TODCO (NYSE:THE) from last year's results). But utilization dipped from the third quarter due to repairs and maintenance requirements.

Likewise, the operational picture was a mixed bag. Year-over-year operating income growth of 234% is great, but it was down sequentially. The culprit wasn't anything too surprising -- higher maintenance and repair costs and the ongoing overall inflation in operating costs for drilling companies.

What really ticked off the Street, though, was the company's guidance for the first half. Because of delays in moving rigs over to new higher-priced contracts and higher costs from maintenance and mobilization, management is looking for earnings in the first and second quarters to be basically flat with this quarter. As you might imagine, that's a fair bit below what analysts were expecting.

So what, then, should investors do with Transocean's stock, which is down about 12% from its highs? With a firm backlog of contracted business, I don't think we'll be seeing revenue declines anytime soon. Heck, Devon (NYSE:DVN) just committed itself to a fairly high-priced agreement that won't even start until 2008. Likewise for Chevron (NYSE:CVX), Petrobras (NYSE:PBR), and practically any other deepwater driller: Plans are in place, budgets are allocated, and I don't think drilling activity is going to slow down unless oil prices just collapse.

These are the trying times that come with investing in sectors like energy services. If you already have big gains in stocks like Transocean or Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), maybe you're tempted to flee and lock in those profits. But if you believe that we're in for a longer stretch of higher energy prices (and higher exploration/drilling activity), this might be your chance to start nibbling at stocks that previously ran away from you.

For more Foolish thoughts on drillers:

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).