RCMP: Latest B.C. pipeline bombings have finally prompted tips to investigators
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Police are hoping a new spate of tips will help them crack what appears to be the longest string of bombings since the FLQ terrorized Quebec in the 1960s.
After two bombs exploded on EnCana’s northeast B.C. natural gas pipeline network within three days of each other last week, the RCMP issued a renewed call for the public’s help in pinpointing the person responsible.
“Our phones were ringing today,” Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said Monday. “We got over a dozen tips since these last two incidents.”
“There’s a public consensus that people are looking at it and saying hang on a second, maybe I have seen something. I think our messaging was appropriate and effective because obviously we’re getting calls.”
EnCana (TSX:ECA) facilities have been bombed six times since last October, after the company and a small Dawson Creek, B.C., newspaper received a crudely printed warning that EnCana and other oil and gas companies should cease operations in the area.
“We will not negotiate with terrorists, which you are because you keep endangering our families with crazy expansion of deadly gas wells in our home lands,” the letter said, referring to the regions sour gas reserves, which contain potentially deadly hydrogen sulphide.
The six blasts have caused several leaks but so far no one has been hurt.
Author Andrew Nikiforuk said the bombing campaign – and police and government reaction to it – bear striking similarities to what happened in Alberta a decade ago, when farmer Wiebo Ludwig was jailed for two years for bombings and vandalism aimed at sour gas producers.
Two EnCana gas wells and one owned by Suncor Inc. were hit in 1998, and another blast cratered a road leading to a Norcen Energy well site.
The string of B.C. explosions now exceeds the number of bombs planted by a self-styled group of Vancouver urban guerrillas dubbed the Squamish Five in 1982. They hit a B.C. Hydro substation, a Toronto plant making cruise-missile components, and firebombed three Vancouver adult video stores.
The separatist FLQ exploded dozens of bombs in Quebec – some of them deadly – for a decade starting in 1963.
Nikiforuk, who wrote a book on the Alberta bombings, said EnCana and sour gas development are again at the centre of the attacks, and as in 1998, the massive RCMP investigation “seems to be going nowhere.”
There’s also conflict in the local communities of Dawson Creek and nearby Pouce Coupe between people upset by the bombings and those who question the pace of sour gas development in the region’s vibrant energy sector. And, said Nikiforuk, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission seems to be a bystander, just as Alberta’s energy regulator was.
“That’s exactly the same situation that happened in Alberta in 1997-98.”
Ludwig was eventually caught with the help of an RCMP informant who gained his confidence and a police-staged bombing designed to bolster the mole’s credibility.
That aspect has local residents wondering if police are pursuing the same strategy, said Nikiforuk, who was in Dawson Creek last month.
“If you go up into Dawson Creek and Pouce Coupe and you talk to people, many of the people there are quite convinced at least one of the bombings has been done by industry or by the RCMP,” he said.
Nikiforuk said some residents have complained investigators from the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team have been heavy-handed. Some say they’ve been followed or had police watching their homes.
Anyone concerned about the potential danger of sour gas leaks now is afraid to speak out for fear being in the Mounties’ sights, he said.
“How many hours do you want to spend with a couple of constables at your kitchen table because you’ve said some comments about sour gas?”
Moskaluk said residents with concerns about the way police have treated them can complain to the local detachment, upper levels of the RCMP or the independent commission that investigates complaints against the force.
Pouce Coupe Mayor Lyman Clark said he’s heard no complaints from among the village’s 900 residents.
“I don’t know how else you’re going to investigate something this serious,” he said.
Most of the police work is conducted in the countryside, with its labyrinth of resource roads and ATV trails.
“That’s where they’re really watching,” he said.
Clark said he’s not surprised police have a new wave of tips after the latest bombings.
“If there was any complacency that lifted people out of it, I’m sure,” he said. “Everybody’s pretty concerned. They don’t want to see anybody hurt; they want to see this guy caught.”
It’s true the bomber may live among them, he conceded, but he’s detected no sympathy.
“We’re hoping the fellow isn’t regarded as a Robin Hood or a Jesse James type out there but it’s entirely possible” said Clark. “There may be some (sympathy) out in the rural areas where the (development) activity goes on.”
Nikiforuk said the surest way to undercut the bomber is to institute tougher regulation of sour gas emissions and compensate those whose properties have been devalued by sour gas development.
“That needs to be done whether there’s a bomber in the community or not,” he said.
Arson attacks near Freeport Indonesia mine
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.’s Grasberg copper and gold mine was operating as business as usual Wednesday after arson attacks occurred near the Indonesian complex, a spokesman said.
The fires, which were not started by mine employees, damaged several vehicles and some facilities but did not result in injuries, Eric Kinneberg, spokesman for Phoenix-based Freeport, said in a statement.
“Order was quickly restored, the situation remains calm and police are investigating,” he said. “There was no impact on production.”
The Grasberg mine is a 24,700-acre area in Papua, Indonesia. A Papua law-enforcement official told Reuters news wire the fires were started to block a road leading to the mine.
Police told Reuters it was unknown whether the attacks were tied to presidential elections held in Indonesia Wednesday.
Freeport, the second-largest Fortune 500 company based in Arizona, expects the Grasberg operations to sell 1.3 billion pounds of copper and 2.2 million ounces of gold this year, up from 1.1 billion pounds of copper and 1.2 m
Keyser Comcast building fire arson
KEYSER, W.Va. — Saturday’s fire that destroyed the North Main Street building housing Comcast communications equipment has been ruled as arson.
Deputy Fire Marshal Patrick Barker, who investigated at the scene following the 9:30 p.m. incident, made the determination that the fire was deliberately set, according to Kathy Green, Investigation Division secretary at the agency’s Charleston office.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries in the incident.
The fire caused a loss of $200,000 to the structure and $100,000 to Comcast equipment. Video and Internet service to Comcast customers in the Keyser area was temporarily disrupted until Comcast established a new communications hub.
Barker and another official of the fire marshal’s office investigated at the scene along with the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, which provided an accelerant-detection dog. A private insurance company’s cause-and-origin investigators also assisted along with Keyser Police Department and the Keyser Volunteer Fire Company.
Although no suspects have been identified, Barker said, “We are trying to follow up on some information that we have developed.”
A reward of up to $1,500 is being offered by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office. Information may be provided to the West Virginia arson hotline at (no snitching).
Assistant Keyser Fire Chief Chris Paitsel had said that preliminary investigation indicated the fire was suspicious and had two points of origin.
The building at 55 N. Main St. served as a residence before it was purchased by Telemedia, which leased it to Comcast. Only one room of the two-story wood frame building was occupied, Paitsel said.
The fire caused minor damage to the nearby M&T Bank and Reed’s Drug Store.