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Coast Guard Shifts Vessel from Fighting Cocaine Smuggling to Keeping Watch on Arctic Oil Drilling

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Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.35.25Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley: Friday, August 14, 2015

The Obama’s administration decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to conduct oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean has forced the U.S. Coast Guard to divert ships to the region, including one that had been deployed to catch drug smugglers in the Caribbean.

To protect both the environment and Shell’s drilling crews working in the dangerous Chukchi Sea, the Coast Guard has had to deploy five ships to the Arctic, according to Reuters. Among the ships is the Waesche, which normally patrols the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico looking for drug traffickers.

The Coast Guard was forced to make these moves in order for Shell, which is conducting exploratory oil drilling, to meet “its environmental and safety commitments,” Reuters’ Timothy Gardner wrote.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, told Reuters the ship deployments represented an “opportunity cost” for his agency. “It means you do less somewhere else in order to supplement activity in the Arctic,” he said.

And, of course, it’s not merely an opportunity cost, but actual taxpayers’ funds subsidizing Shell’s oil exploration via money spent on Coast Guard operations.

The Chukchi Sea has proven to be difficult to work in for Shell. Three years ago, the company tried exploring for oil only to have its drilling rig go out of control and run aground, requiring the Coast Guard to rescue 18 workers and forcing the rig to be scrapped. It was one of several mishaps Shell suffered in 2012, Gardner reported. A Coast Guard report was critical of Shell’s operations at the time.

Zukunft was asked if he was satisfied that Shell had learned adequately from its problems in 2012. He replied: “I am right now.”

In addition to the Waesche’s deployment, the Coast Guard is setting up a helicopter base in Deadhorse, Alaska, to support Shell’s oil exploration, taking the aircraft away from Kodiak, where they’re used for search and rescue operations for recreational craft.

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