B.C. town on edge after pipeline blast
Locals scared and angry after recent attacks
Elise Stolte, Larissa Liepins, Tamara Cunningham and Andrew Bergland, Canwest News Service
Published: Friday, October 17
DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – It’s the question on everyone’s lips here in this remote northern B.C. town: Who’s waging war on the oil industry?
In less than a week, two explosive devices have erupted under sour-gas pipelines owned by EnCana outside the town, 590 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. In both cases, the pipelines did not rupture and no one was injured, but the level of violence involved – and the wording of threatening letters sent to local news outlets last week – has everyone in the region on edge.
“This scares the hell out of me and my family,” said Eric Kuenzl, a resident of neighbouring Tomslake, which is about 30 kilometres south of Dawson’s Creek.
He and six other residents of the town protested the development of a sour-gas well site in their area in June. Sour gas is natural gas tainted with toxic hydrogen sulphide. Many in the area believe sour-gas wells pose a risk to human and livestock health.
Despite his personal opposition to the industry, Kuenzl said he’s certain no one from the area could have planted the bombs.
“This has got to be done by someone from the outside. No matter what (local residents) think of oil and gas, they wouldn’t go out and kill each other,” he said. “Who knows? It could be the al-Qaida. It shows the extremes to which people are willing to go.”
The RCMP’s anti-terrorism Integrated National Security Enforcement Team has now taken over leading the investigation from local officers.
In June, an area First Nation staged a road blockade to protest oil and gas exploration in the region. The Kelly Lake Cree Nation had been voicing concerns about health and safety risks over oil and gas activity on traditional lands for years, and thought a blockade would force industry leaders to listen, said Chief Cliff Caillou, adding it was a peaceful protest.
He also said he doesn’t think anyone from his community is radical enough to use explosives to push the point.
“They’re trying to make it sound like it’s natives, but I don’t think that’s the case,” said retiree Lorne Husk, chatting with neighbours at a local coffee shop Friday.
He was citing a reference to “home lands” in an anonymous letter received by the Dawson Creek Daily News on Oct. 10.
The writer set a deadline of Oct. 11 for “EnCana and all other oil and gas interests” to close down operations near the community of Tomslake, and vowed not to “negotiate with terrorists” taking part in the “crazy expansion of deadly gas wells in our home lands.”
Two days after that letter arrived, a blast crater was found beneath an EnCana pipeline in the district. Evidence of a second blast – which caused a small leak, reportedly contained – was found by workers Thursday morning at another EnCana pipeline site about 500 metres from the Alberta border. Police believe the two attacks are related.
The bombings have left parents of children who attend a nearby elementary school on edge.
Tate Creek Elementary is reviewing emergency procedures after two bomb blasts in the area, worried the next explosion could come even closer.
“If they set off a bomb over there,” said Melissa Hedberg, pointing to a well site about a kilometre from her children’s’ small rural school, “the school probably wouldn’t even have time to shut off all the intake systems. There’s just no warning.
“They need to be thinking about all the innocent lives they’ll be taking when they set this off.”
The school is set in the low part of a valley and has pipelines all around it. The school has about 45 students and is located about 16 kilometres from the blast site.
After getting a heads-up about the latest blast Thursday, the school used its emergency protocol for the first time.
Students were brought inside the school, the furnace intake was shut down to limit what kind of air or fumes come into the building, and the doors were taped shut anywhere there were cracks or openings.
The school district has plans to install a one-hit, wall-mounted kill switch for the whole intake and furnace system soon.
The first blast occurred 15 kilometres from EnCana’s Steeprock gas plant. The second blast was just 10 kilometres away, according to a contractor for EnCana.
A woman who works for the oil and gas giant, who asked that her name not be used, said security guards for EnCana have been patrolling the roads leading to the plant.
“For the lunatics, whoever is doing this, to call the gas companies terrorists . . . gas companies aren’t using explosives; they are not endangering mass lives,” she said.
Other oil and gas companies in the region are tightening their own security. Murphy Oil Company Ltd., which is drilling wells and building a gas plant about 30 kilometres southwest of Dawson Creek, has instituted a “buddy system” for its workers in the wake of the blasts to ensure they not travel to any isolated sites alone.
RCMP Sgt. Tim Shields said investigators are looking into possible connections to a wave of “eco-terrorism” in the nearby Alberta Peace Country from 1995 to 1998 that’s often associated with farmer Wiebo Ludwig, a longtime activist who claimed sour-gas wells adversely affect human health.
Ludwig was released from prison in 2001 after serving two thirds of a 28-month sentence for five charges related to oilpatch bombing and vandalism.
“It’s something that we will be examining,” Shields said.
Calgary journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, author of the 2002 book, Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil, dismissed the RCMP’s description of the saboteur as an eco-terrorist.
“This is not the work of eco-terrorists, for God’s sakes. This is the work of a pissed-off landowner who’s probably a property-rights advocate, who doesn’t like the fact that either his health has been damaged, or his property has been devalued by sour-gas developments,” Nikiforuk told Canwest News Service on Friday.
“The list of suspects is long, unfortunately,” Nikiforuk said, adding it includes First Nations people in the area, ranchers and oil-and-gas workers “who might have a grudge.”
“Sour gas is like having a child molester in your neighbourhood,” Nikiforuk said. “You never know when it’s going to go off; when there’s going to be a problem. So it introduces to agricultural communities a level of risk and hazard that was never there before.”
Nikiforuk said he doesn’t believe the saboteur meant to hurt anyone.
“Whoever did this wanted to make the headlines, they didn’t want to kill people. If you want to kill people up there with sour gas, it would be very easy to do. There are thousands and thousands of pipelines, wells, and scores of sour-gas plants up there,” he said
“Whoever did this planned it very well, picked the locations very carefully, and seems to have been either skilfully adept at not rupturing a pipeline, or skilfully inept at not rupturing a pipeline – and I suspect there are signs here of skilful adeptness.”
“My guess is, there will still be more (acts of sabotage.)”
No information has been released on the type of explosive used.
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