AEC, Mounties Sting Canadian Eco-Terrorists
One of the most prolific natural gas regions of Canada has
become a combat zone for alleged industrial terrorists and
aggressive federal police - and the country's sixth-largest
producer is in the thick of the fray.
As two reputed ringleaders of gas field attacks cooled their
heels in a northwestern Alberta jail, awaiting trial without bail,
Alberta Energy Co.'s president stepped forward to explain its role
in the conflict to startled stockholders and anxious employees.
Gwyn Morgan said five trusted AEC staff collaborated, with full
support from the company and out of a strong sense of corporate
citizenship, in a spectacular sting operation by the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police that has drawn national attention across Canada.
Titled Operation Kabriole, the sting consisted of an RCMP
informant or undercover agent staging a bombing that destroyed a
shed at an AEC wellhead. The company helped set up the site, taking
precautions to ensure the blast would be remote from any population
centers and not harm real gas-field operations.
The idea was to collect evidence on real cases by winning the
trust of the two alleged eco-terrorists: Wiebo Ludwig and Richard
Boonstra, who are leaders of a small religious commune near Hythe,
a gas field and agricultural community in the Grande Prairie area
about 600 miles northwest of the industry capital of Calgary.
The bombing attracted national attention last fall as one of the
most spectacular events in a wave of about 160 increasingly violent
incidents of vandalism and alleged terrorism that had gone on for
about two years. At the height of the campaign late last fall,
senior officials from Ottawa flew to Calgary to reassure workers in
the Harry Hays federal office complex that there was no threat of a
Canadian version of the Oklahoma City bombing.
The northern wellhead explosion was only disclosed to be a
police sting by some evidence at a bail hearing earlier this year.
The revelation drew wildly mixed reactions, ranging from earnest
demands for inquiries and protests against entrapment tactics to
jokes and cartoons about the Mounties developing strange ways to
get their men. But there have also been eager defenses of the RCMP
and AEC - especially in the Hythe and Grande Prairie areas, where
community opinion is almost unanimous that it had become necessary
to fight fire with fire.
Morgan suggested there was nothing funny or wrong about the
operation. The Grande Prairie region is a growth area for AEC, and
Morgan said "for more than two years, the affected northwestern
Alberta communities and our employees have been living and working
The AEC president said, "What began as nuisance vandalism
escalated to life-threatening acts of sabotage. Nails on access
roads, tire slashings and drill holes through pipelines escalated
to high-powered rifle shots - fired into plant facilities where
people were working - then to explosive devices on wellsite
pipelines. Finally, there were explosions at gas production
facilities, one of which handled poisonous hydrogen sulphide."
Sour Gas Dispute
Known in Canada as "sour" gas, production laced with hydrogen
sulphide impurities is at the heart of the battle. About a third of
western Canadian gas is sour. Wells, pipelines and processing
plants are strictly policed by provincial authorities. Even though
projects involving the hazardous substance are required to use
extra-strength pipe, masses of safety gear and special precautions
such as community evacuation plans, new developments invariably
provoke protests and lengthy hearings.
Hydrogen sulphide, a nerve poison akin to cyanide, is lethal in
atmospheric concentrations as low as one per cent. Far lower
concentrations generate an overpowering stench of rotten eggs.
Ironically, one of the first casualties of a potentially lethal
dose is the sense of smell, robbing victims of their warning to
The Canadian industry routinely produces concentrations as high
as 35%, stripping out about 99.8% of the hydrogen sulphide as
byproduct sulphur and incinerating the rest in tall stacks at
processing plants. The sour-gas region is a vast belt including
some of Canada's most prolific fields, stretching along the
foothills of the Rocky Mountains from northern Alberta south almost
to the international border, where national parks halt drilling.
Farmers and environmentalists have for decades blamed livestock
and wildlife problems on sour gas operations, but official
scientific and medical inquiries have repeatedly returned
inconsequential results. Ludwig has for years blamed a case of a
stillborn child at his Hythe commune on sour gas wells in the area.
After the staged blast and a day-long search of the commune by
squads of Mounties, Ludwig and Boonstra have been charged with nine
counts each of counselling the RCMP informant, Robert Wraight, to
possess explosives, destroy or damage valuable property and render
property dangerous. The case is expected to drag on for much of
this year, with all concerned agreeing with Morgan that it is
taking place "in what continues to be a highly charged and
"So why did AEC co-operate?" Morgan asked in explaining the
company's conduct. "Quite simply, the decision . . . had one clear
objective: to avoid injury or death."
The AEC president made no apologies for letting the police draw
the company into the fray. Hazardous gas field operations were
involved, and "everything AEC stands for told me we couldn't be a
bystander when people are at risk, and when there was even a small
chance that our assistance could help prevent injury or death . . .
in all of our business activities over the past 25 years, there has
been only one time - October 1998 (the date of the staged
explosion) - when our public responses were consciously less than
straight up. We did so because we believed it to be absolutely
necessary, and with the knowledge that when the story was fully
told in the judicial process we would be held fully accountable."
Morgan said, "we committed to full co-operation because it was
the morally right thing to do. I believe it is what every
law-abiding Canadian should do and indeed has an obligation to do."
Gordon Jaremko, Calgary