The B.C. energy project that made national news five years ago wasn’t an oil operation proposed by Enbridge or Kinder Morgan – it was natural gas sites owned by Encana Corp., six of which were targeted by bombings near Dawson Creek.
The explosions spanned the period from October, 2008, to July, 2009, and divided the residents of the northeastern community. Oil and gas activity in the region had soared, and some residents had complained about the wells and pipelines springing up on their property. The bomber, they argued, was at least giving them some kind of voice.
Others, including the RCMP, said the person behind the attacks was nothing short of a terrorist.
Only one person, Wiebo Ludwig, was ever arrested in the case. But Mr. Ludwig, who had served time for similar attacks in his home province of Alberta, was quickly released without charges and has since died.
Who perpetrated the bombings, and why they suddenly stopped, remains a mystery.
Dan Przybylski, former publisher of the Dawson Creek Daily News, which was thrust into the spotlight when it received letters from the apparent bomber, said locals don’t much talk about the attacks any more.
“As a whole, it has come and passed. Nobody got hurt, nobody got killed,” he said in an interview. “Kind of, ‘Phew, dodged that bullet.’”
The town’s mayor said much the same, as did Staff Sergeant Milo MacDonald, commander of the Dawson Creek RCMP detachment.
“I think that the community has moved on. We don’t hear about it any more that often,” the officer said.
The first explosion was discovered by a hunter on Oct. 11, 2008. The blast was strong enough to create a two-metre-deep crater beneath the pipeline.
The RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, an anti-terrorism unit, was called in to investigate.
The second explosion was discovered a few days later, on Oct. 16. The damage was severe enough to cause a small leak, though it was quickly contained.
The third bombing, discovered on Oct. 31, also caused a small leak.
In December, as the RCMP struggled to crack the case, the force set up a website to generate tips. It also released surveillance photos from October of eight people who had mailed letters on the same day that threatening correspondence was sent to local media outlets and EnCana. The letters had demanded oil and gas projects in the area shut down. The RCMP later ruled out all eight people as suspects.
On Jan. 5, 2009, a fourth attack was discovered. No leak was reported, but the RCMP expressed concern the bomber was becoming more reckless, as the blast occurred 250 metres from the nearest home.
The following week, Mounties announced they had identified persons of interest in the case, but said those people refused to co-operate with the investigation. The force, again, appealed to the public for help. Encana put up a $500,000 reward for information directly leading to an arrest and prosecution. It later increased the amount to $1-million.
The fifth explosion was discovered on July 1, after a nearly six-month hiatus.
Crews were still working to fix that leak when, on July 4, the sixth and final explosion was discovered.
Another letter was sent to the Dawson Creek Daily news that month, which Mr. Przybylski turned over to police. The letter said the attacks would stop for three months to give EnCana a chance to leave the area.
“We can all take a summer vacation including your security personnel and the RCMP who have not helped you to date anyway,” the letter said.
It was around that time that several residents criticized the RCMP’s aggressive tactics and said they had been harassed and intimidated. One man said an officer had loudly accused him of being the bomber while he ate at a local café. The force, which at the time had 250 investigators on the case, said it had not received any formal complaints. It had interviewed 450 people in its investigation at that point.
In January, 2010, the RCMP made its only arrest. Mr. Ludwig, who had previously been ruled out as a suspect, was taken into custody. The force said it made the arrest as a matter of public safety, but charges were never laid and Mr. Ludwig was released.
Mr. Ludwig had been convicted in April, 2000, of bombing a Suncor well site near his home in Hythe, Alberta. He was sentenced to 28 months and served 19.
He died at his home in April, 2012.
Sergeant Rob Vermeulen, an RCMP E Division spokesman based in the Lower Mainland, said in an e-mail that the investigation has not concluded.
However, Mr. Vermeulen did not respond when asked how many officers remain on the case, or if police still have any persons of interest.
The tip website set up by the force no longer appears to be accessible.
Mr. Przybylski said one of the lingering questions is what the bomber was truly after.
“Did their message get sent? Because they quit,” he said. “Until [we] ever get a chance to talk to the person or persons, we’re never going to know what it was they were trying to accomplish.Virtually everybody was just guessing.”
He said there were some positives that arose as a result of the bombings, including increased air and gas monitoring. But aside from that, he said, not much appeared to have changed.
“They’re not putting up fewer pipelines. They’re not putting up fewer wellheads. You can look at a map of gas lines and it’s still going to be a big red dot because you can’t tell one line from another one,” he said.
An Encana spokesperson did not return a message seeking comment.
Dale Bumstead, who was born and raised in Dawson Creek and elected mayor this past September, said the town is continuing its transformation from an agricultural community into an energy community.
“Managing that transformation is my focus today, really trying to be very specific, deliberate and strategic about how we see the development and the impacts to our community,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Bumstead said the Farmers’ Advocacy Office, which was established in January, 2010, and helps resolve disputes between landowners and the oil and gas industry, has been a positive.
When asked what he remembers most from the time of the bombings, Mr. Bumstead said the concern that someone would go to such lengths and risk endangering members of the community.
He said he has “no idea” why the attacks suddenly stopped.
“It’s just hard to understand,” he said.