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AEC, Mounties Sting Canadian Eco-Terrorists

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 in fear."

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 flee.

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 stressful atmosphere."

"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

©Copyright 1999 Intelligence Press, Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed in whole or in part without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.

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