Canadian police make arrest in connection with pipeline bombings investigation

By Jeremy Hainsworth, AP
Saturday, January 9, 2010

Police make arrest in Canada pipeline bomb probe

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — An anti-energy industry activist convicted of bombing oil and gas wells a decade ago was arrested in connection with the investigation into a series of pipeline bombings in northeastern British Columbia, his lawyer said.

Wiebo Ludwig is being investigated on charges of extortion against EnCana Corp., one of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies, Ludwig’s lawyer Paul Moreau said Friday.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Tim Shields would not identify the man arrested Friday as he has yet to be charged. Shields said prosecutors have not made a decision yet.

About 100 officers initially searched the farm in the western Alberta town of Hythe in connection with the case, Shields said. The farm belongs to Ludwig, Moreau said.

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.

Moreau said he’s not sure what’s behind the extortion allegation 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 is well known in Alberta for his opposition to the oil and gas industry. He 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. Wiebo’s friend Richard Boonstra, who served three weeks in jail for his part in the attacks a decade ago, said the raid included SWAT teams. He said the 51 people living on the compound took the raid in stride.

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.

Ludwig moved to Alberta’s Peace River region in 1985 to insulate his alternative Christian community from what he called the madness of modern life.

Five years later, the oil and gas companies arrived. He spent years trying to raise awareness of property rights around exploration, the environment and the toxic nature of sour gas.

There were two sour gas leaks to which Ludwig attributed animal deaths and miscarriages by two women on his commune.

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 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.

In Calgary, EnCana spokesman Alan Boras said the company is pleased that the investigation into the bombings has advanced.

“It’s been a challenging time for our employees and contractors, people who work there. So we hope this is a step toward bringing some kind of resolution,” Boras said.

The company had been offering a $1 million Canadian dollars (US$970,000) award 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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