DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — As members of the RCMP's national terrorism unit continued to gather evidence at the sites of two gas pipeline bombings in northeastern B.C. this weekend, other officers met with about 200 frightened citizens at a public gathering.
“There is an ongoing amount of concern and definitely a certain level of fear that has been expressed from the public,” said Sgt. Tim Shields.
“This event was an opportunity for the RCMP to explain what is going on with the investigation and to provide a forum for the community to ask questions of the police and EnCana.”
The pipeline operator and police officers met with residents in a hall at the tiny nearby community of Tomslake.
Eric Kuenzl of Tomslake, B.C., was at the meeting at the school in the hamlet near the Alberta boundary.
He says people in the area aren't venturing out unless it's absolutely necessary.
“People are on edge. They're scared,” Mr. Kuenzl told The Canadian Press. “They want answers. The meeting was designed to give direction. They ironed out a few things . . . as far as flying over with choppers and looking with infra-red to make sure there's no other bombs.”
“That makes me feel a little safer.”
Mr. Kuenzl was critical, however, of officials locking children in the Tomslake school when news of the bombing came out.
He says the community sits in a low-lying area and the heavy gas from the pipeline could have killed youngsters locked in a school.
“They put all the kids inside and then they closed all the ducts and everything. It's like building a giant coffin,” Mr. Kuenzl said.
“Why wouldn't you just load them up in the bus and get 'em the hell out of here. I think I'd be safer on the roof of my house than I would be inside my house.”
Meanwhile, members of the RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit and the RCMP National Post Blast Team continue their work at the blast sites.
“Personnel are continuing to conduct a thorough search of the blast area and the surrounding debris field,” said Sgt. Shields.
“Essentially, these individuals are combing the area looking for any item that is out of place and could provide a clue to investigators. This can include anything from a footprint to a piece of the explosive that was used.”
It's not yet clear what motivated two attacks on pipelines near Dawson Creek, the first last weekend and the second Wednesday night.
Police believe they're linked to a letter sent to local media last week calling oil and gas companies “terrorists” that are “endangering our families.”
People living in and around Dawson Creek are quick to condemn the explosions, but they also say the region's burgeoning oilpatch has had a sometimes uneasy relationship with its neighbours.
In both cases, the pipelines were owned by EnCana. The first pipeline did not rupture but the second explosion caused a small leak, one the company said was quickly contained.
The RCMP explosives unit was also at the site Friday, trying to find out what happened, said Sgt. Shields.
“They will be in the process of recreating the blast in order to determine what type of material was used, how it was used and to gather evidence,” he said.
Terrorism expert John Thompson said the fact the bombings weren't preceded by other incidents of protest and vandalism suggests they're likely the work of one or two people working alone rather than organized environmental groups mounting a broader campaign.
“This also suggests that this is a small, amateurish effort by community activists,” said Mr. Thompson, president of the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute.
“It's either somebody who is particularly torqued off by the oil and gas industry specifically, or someone who is self-actualized as a radical environmentalist with their own strange ideas about how to fight.”
The bombings have brought back memories of Wiebo Ludwig, an Alberta farmer who spent nearly two years in prison on charges related to oilpatch bombing and vandalism in the 1990s.
Mr. Ludwig told the CBC, however, that he's had no contact from police about the latest incidents.
But, he said, a message is being sent.
And Mr. Ludwig said he hopes someone is listening.
“I've been there, I've wanted to do terrible things to the industry, because of what was happening to us here,” Mr. Ludwig said in an interview at his northern Alberta home. “Not because I wanted to pay them back. But to stop them somehow, because they wouldn't listen.
“We talked for six years to authorities, wrote letters ad nauseam and everybody just passed the buck. And when you get to that point you say, well, there's only one thing. You gotta do something to shake them up.”
All the same, Mr. Ludwig understands the fear his neighbours are going through.
“It bothers me a lot actually. The other day I did cry about it. I don't look like an emotional man to you, maybe, really, but I did.”
While both recent attacks involved pipelines owned by EnCana, the Calgary-based energy giant is just one of several companies reshaping the landscape of northeastern B.C.
The province has more than 4,000 producing oil and gas wells in the region, and in recent years the industry has been growing rapidly.
In 1996, the industry was worth about $370-million in revenues to the province. A decade later, that figure had skyrocketed to $2.5-billion, mostly related to natural gas projects.
An EnCana spokesman said companies have the right to develop even without the blessings of landowners, but Alan Boras says his company works to develop a positive relationship with residents.
Like other provinces, B.C. has a public body that handles cases that can't be settled through negotiation.
Mr. Boras said cases rarely head to that stage.
For example, he said there have been hundreds of successful negotiations in the Dawson Creek area in recent years, and only one case that went to mediation – where it was resolved before a ruling was required.