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August 07, 2009

Pipeline Sabotage Blows Image of Stable Canada

ENERGY:
Pipeline Sabotage Blows Image of Stable Canada

Chris Arsenault*

POUCE COUPE, British Columbia, Aug 27 (IPS) - North America's largest natural gas corporation hopes a one-million-dollar bounty will take down the saboteur who is blowing up their pipelines in northern Canada.

Since October 2008, six controlled explosions have rocked sour gas pipelines operated by EnCana energy around the Tomslake area in the province of British Columbia. EnCana's reward is thought to be the largest in Canadian history.

While Calgary-based EnCana is the largest player in the area, a boom in unconventional gas extraction has transformed the rolling hills and sleepy farmland in this sparely populated region to a bustling hub of activity.

"We really ramped things up in 2003," Encana spokesperson Brian Liverse told IPS during an interview at the company's field office.

The corporation has several hundred wells in British Columbia, and between 150 and 200 in the area facing sabotage, says Liverse.

Much of the region's gas is sour, or contaminated with hydrogen sulfide, a "highly toxic gas" which can cause death within a few breaths, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

"The gas rigs are like Christmas trees, they just dot the landscape," said Lyman Clark, the mayor of Pouce Coupe, the village nearest to attacked sites.

On Jul. 15, days after the most recent attack, the Dawson Creek Daily News received a handwritten letter, allegedly from the bomber, demanding that EnCana cease operations in area.

"Return the land to what it was before you came every last bit of itů before things get a lot worse for you and your terrorist pals in the oil and gas business," wrote the bomber.

In a rare move, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), a mix of top law enforcement officials tasked with investigating the attacks, have posted the bomber's handwritten letters on their website.

At least 250 members of INSET - including masked men with high-powered machine guns and a sniper flown back directly from Afghanistan - have descended on the Peace River region of northeastern British Columbia.

In the Jul. 15 letter, the saboteur promised to suspend attacks for three months so "We can all take a summer vacation including your security personnel and the RCMP who have not helped you to date anyway."

EnCana admits to hiring private security, but Brian Liverse wouldn't say how many or what kind of agents the company is employing.

The point of the attacks was "to let you [EnCana and the rest of the gas industry] know that you are indeed vulnerable, [and] can be rendered helpless despite your megafunds, your political influence, craftiness, and deceit," wrote the alleged bomber.

World demand for natural gas is expected to climb 51 percent by 2030 and British Columbia's provincial government, which owns subsurface petroleum rights, is pushing hard for increased investment. Since 2000, companies have drilled more than 10,000 oil and gas wells in the region.

In 2008, the province reaped a record 2.7 billion dollars from selling natural gas drilling rights. But as sour gas lines cut into fields of canola, companies flare toxic chemicals lighting up the night sky with an eerie glow, and trucks kick up dust on previously tranquil dirt roads, some local residents say increased production is coming at their expense.

"Billions of dollars leave our community every year, yet our elders have to travel to Vancouver when they get sick," said Cliff Calliou, Chief of the Kelly Lake First Nation, an indigenous community of some 500 residents 30 minutes from the bombed sites.

Industry's incursions are "changing the way of life in the community, our hunting, trapping, berry picking - even just going camping," Calliou told IPS during an interview at Kelly Lake's community centre, where several dozen residents attended a conference on strategies for dealing with the petroleum industry.

Despite the region's oil wealth, many houses in Kelly Lake are ramshackle trailers.

Unlike other native groups, there is no official treaty between Kelly Lake and the Canadian government. Natives say the gas is being stolen from unceded land and have launched a 5.2-billion-dollar claim for recompense.

After the first attacks last fall, police and media speculated - without evidence - that the bomber came from the Kelly Lake First Nation. "They [police] threw two people in jail with no charges," Calliou told IPS. He describes police actions in the community as a "witch hunt".

Natives aren't the only ones claiming police harassment. Members of INSET loudly accused local businessman Dennis MacLennan of being the bomber as he sat in a diner. The public accusations have severely impacted his business, according to media reports.

Police also accused 76-year-old Regina Mortensen, a grandmother recovering from hip surgery, of sabotaging the pipelines.

Police spokesperson Rob Vermeulen refused to comment on specific allegations of abuse. "One of our goals is to eliminate persons of interest and we can only do that by talking to people," Vermeulen told IPS. Some residents complain they have been interviewed more than four times.

At a July press conference, police accused the saboteur of "terrorising these communities of Pouce Coupe and Dawson Creek" and labeled the attacks "eco-terrorism".

But the mayor of Pouce Coupe, an ardent supporter of the gas industry, doesn't see it that way.

"I have discussed this [sabotage] with some pipeline workers," Mayor Lyman Clark told IPS at the village's office. "One just frankly told me 'I am more afraid of the bears.' "

Accessing gas in northern British Columbia isn't easy or cheap compared with other jurisdictions. Companies use a technique called horizontal drilling where rigs dig down around 2.3 kilometres and then sideways for another 2 kms, according to EnCana's Brian Liverse.

Geologically, Canada is at a disadvantage compared to other petroleum producers, but companies value political stability. That, more than anything, is what the bomber is attacking. And the companies are scared.

*This is the first of a two-part series on the sabotage of gas pipelines in Northern Canada, and the impacts of energy development in the region.

(END/2009)


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