You, of course, know that the Gulf of Mexico has become an environmental catastrophe, following the April explosion, fire, and sinking of Transocean's (NYSE: RIG) Deepwater Horizon while it was in the employ of BP (NYSE: BP).

But what you may not yet recognize is that, from a business perspective, the Gulf is starting to suck air. Oh sure, BP is in trouble, big trouble. Indeed, Matt Simmons, the chairman emeritus of energy-oriented investment banker Simmons & Co. International, predicted as recently as Tuesday on CNBC that the company likely won't last more than a matter of months. His rationale: It's not capable of cleaning up a mess like the one now spreading across the gulf.

But the difficulties don't stop there. Indeed, little attention has been paid to other companies dunked in the soup by the BP mess. As you know, President Obama has slapped a six-month moratorium on gulf drilling at depths in excess of 500 feet, idling 33 deepwater-capable rigs in various stages of exploration or production.   

But did you know that fully five of those rigs were being operated by Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A)? And if that weren't enough, along with the gulf pullback, the feds have put at least a temporary kibosh on Shell's plans to spend most of this summer drilling five exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska.

Further, there are other ramifications beginning to surface for both the producers and the oilfield service companies. For instance, Houston-based Cobalt International Energy has invoked force majeure on a contract for a Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO) rig that was preparing to drill of the coast of Louisiana. According to Cobalt, it expects the action to cost it about $15 million.

There almost certainly will be more force majeure declarations, along with resulting lawsuits initiated by feisty service companies. For instance, service boat operator Hornbeck Offshore (NYSE: HOS) has already declared its intention to defend the enforcement of contracts against such claims. So has Noble (NYSE: NE), which had force majeure declared against it by Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC) and doesn't plan to let the oil company off the hook.

Clearly a more serious and lasting consequence of all this action would be Simmons' predication that, "once the moratorium ends, we have to build a new generation of equipment." That likely will lead to many of the rigs now serving the gulf migrating to international locations in something like a mass exodus. Taken one step farther, that disruption can't possibly benefit the thousands of rig hands currently working in the gulf.

But what approach should you take as an energy investor? My advice is to weather the storm under some shares of an ideal industry proxy, ExxonMobil. You can then venture into other positions when things calm down, which, frankly, could take a while.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't hold positions in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your comments or questions. The Fool has a disclosure policy.