DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – It’s been nine months since the first explosion targeting EnCana’s (TSX:ECA) natural gas operations in northeastern B.C. – the start of six attacks the RCMP are now labelling “domestic terrorism.”
But with the bomber still at large and months since investigators have announced any new leads in the case, the RCMP are asking for patience as they investigate the two latest explosions in the Dawson Creek area.
A blast on Canada Day at a wellhead near the village of Pouce Coupe marked the first attack since January, and crews working to repair that site heard yet another explosion Saturday on a nearby pipeline.
“For the public, certainly we share in their frustration,” Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said in an interview.
“But we want to assure the public that the resources that are being put to this string of incidents are quite substantial.”
Last October, someone sent a hand-written letter to local media outlets demanding a stop to oil and gas operations in the area, calling EnCana and other companies “terrorists” that are “endangering our families with crazy expansion of deadly gas wells.”
The note was followed by three successive explosions, two of which caused leaks of sour gas, which contains toxic hydrogen sulphide.
In January, a fourth bombing destroyed a metering shed at a wellhead near the community of Tomslake.
The RCMP’s anti-terrorism unit has been investigating the attacks, but police haven’t announced any substantial leads since last December, when they released a series of eight surveillance photos that apparently turned out to be a dead end.
Moskaluk said that doesn’t mean investigators haven’t made progress, but he declined to elaborate.
“I can’t quantify that,” said Moskaluk when asked whether there have been any other substantial leads since the surveillance photos.
“The guys are in the trenches and they’re working away on the physical scene. We have a multitude of other specialty units and resources that are attached to this investigation.”
The RCMP believe the bomber is from the local area and has a grievance with EnCana, which has offered a $500,000 reward for information in the case.
The Calgary-based energy giant has also set up a dedicated phone line for the bomber to call to talk about his or her concerns, but so far the telephone hasn’t rang.
The latest attacks ended roughly six months of relative quiet, and have renewed tensions in the communities that dot the region’s booming oilpatch.
Pouce Coupe resident Steve Dirkson was on holidays for two weeks in B.C.’s Interior and hadn’t heard of the two latest attacks until a reporter phoned him at home on Sunday morning.
“Oh my God – are you serious? They’re getting away with it,” said Dirkson, a 52-year-old psychiatric nurse.
“I am surprised that there hasn’t been any (arrests), considering that they’ve got this huge reward out there. I’m surprised and I’m shocked that it’s continuing.”
Terrorism expert Paul Joosse said the renewed bombings may be an attempt to get the bomber’s original grievances – apparently outlined in the October letter – back in the news.
Joosse, who teaches at the University of Alberta, said it appears unlikely that the decision to detonate a bomb on Canada Day was a coincidence.
“Now we’ve had the first glimpse since that threat letter into the political imagination of the bomber,” Joosse said in an interview Sunday.
“We can’t know for sure, but the date seems to be symbolic in some way.”
Joosse said it’s also significant that the RCMP are now referring to the attacks as terrorism – a term the force has largely shied away from, preferring instead to call them “vandalism.”
While the force says the change simply reflects the growing threat that’s emerging after six attacks, Joosse suggested it may be a way to encourage more co-operation from the public.
“By calling it terrorism now, perhaps they’re hoping the public will take this more seriously and say, ‘OK, this is something that has to be stopped …”‘ said Joosse.
The RCMP have in the past suggested there are people in the area who likely have information about the bombings but are keeping quiet.