Canadian police arrest man on extortion charges in connection with pipeline bombings

By Jeremy Hainsworth, AP
Friday, January 8, 2010

Police make arrest in Canadian pipeline bombings

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a series of oil and gas pipeline bombings in northeastern British Columbia.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Tim Shields said a man in his 50s or 60s was taken into custody in western Alberta. Police did not release the suspect’s name pending the filing of formal charges.

Police were searching a farm in the western Alberta town of Hythe in connection with the case, Shields said.

A lawyer for the farm’s owner said his client, Wiebo Ludwig, is being investigated on charges of extortion against EnCana Corp., one Canada’s largest oil and gas companies.

There have been six bombings of EnCana pipelines in British Columbia since October 2008. No one was injured in the attacks which caused only minor disruptions to pipeline operations.

Lawyer Paul Moreau said he’s not sure what’s behind the extortion charge and has not yet seen the evidence against Ludwig.

Moreau said his client was called to a meeting with police Friday morning at a motel in nearby Grande Prairie, Alberta, where he was immediately placed under arrest.

Ludwig was sent to prison in 2001 and served two-thirds of a 28-month sentence for his role in earlier gas well bombings in Alberta. 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.

Police previously had said they did not consider Ludwig a suspect in the latest pipeline bombings. Ludwig wrote an open letter to the bomber last fall appealing for a halt to the attacks.

Moreau said Ludwig believed he had been summoned to Friday’s meeting to offer assistance to police in their investigation.

Police called the arrest and search of the farm a “significant development” in their investigation into the pipeline bombings.

There have been six bombings of EnCana Corp. pipelines in British Columbia since October 2008. No one was injured in the attacks which caused only minor disruptions to pipeline operations.

The blasts put a spotlight on local concerns over the rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in the region, particularly projects involving sour gas, which contains the potentially deadly chemical hydrogen sulfide.

The first explosion was preceded by a letter to a newspaper that called oil and gas companies, and EnCana in particular, “terrorists” and demanded an immediate halt to their operations.

The letter accused EnCana, one of Canada’s top oil and gas companies, of endangering families in western Canada with its expansion of potentially deadly gas wells.

In July, another letter announced a three-month halt to attacks against the company but warned that they would resume if the company didn’t stop the sour gas pipeline operations by Oct. 11.

EnCana offered a cash reward of $1 million Canadian dollars (US$970,000) for information leading to the arrest of whoever is behind the bombings.

Investigators said all the explosions occurred in the same area of British Columbia about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver. Police said in the past that their investigation was stymied by a group of residents sympathetic to the bomber.

British Columbia has more than 4,000 producing oil and gas wells, all in the northeastern part of the province, and the industry has expanded in recent years.

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