The RCMP have been called to a remote British Columbia island after an environmental activist "monkeywrenched" a science project in the Great Bear Rainforest, breaking open a drill shaft and tampering with high explosives to stop a seismic blast from occurring.
One of the scientists running the Batholiths Continental Dynamics Project, in which researchers from 12 Canadian and U.S. universities are planning to set off a long chain of about 20 blasts to study how coastal mountains are formed, says the protester put himself and researchers at risk and triggered an "eco-terrorism" investigation by police.
"This is serious stuff. He could have blown himself up," John Hole, an associate professor of geophysics at Virginia Tech, said after learning one seismic site, on Denny Island, had been spiked.
"Because there are high explosives involved and because of the Dawson Creek bombings [of EnCana gas lines in northeast B.C.]this has gone all the way to Ottawa. This has triggered the eco-terrorism label with the RCMP," Dr. Hole said.
Dr. Hole said Ingmar Lee, an environmental activist who admits to vandalizing the blast shaft, has left researchers with a dangerous problem.
"The only safe way to destroy explosives is to explode them," Dr. Hole said. "But he has destroyed our safe detonation system."
The shaft contains about 1,000 kilograms of explosives. It is part of a string of blast sites, set to be detonated today and tomorrow, that will provide researchers with seismic information on coastal batholiths, domes of volcanic rock that underlie coastal mountains. Dr. Hole said the individual seismic shots will be "smaller than many of the earthquakes that occur naturally in the region."
The research has been controversial and a marine stage of the project was cancelled in 2007 after groups protested that seismic waves could hurt ocean mammals.
The scientists then shifted their focus to land and spent two years obtaining government permits.
Mr. Lee found one of the blast sites while studying sandhill cranes on Denny Island. Fearing a threat to the birds, he asked Dr. Hole to stop the blast, but when that was rejected he decided to take direct action.
"I brought a large axe and I smashed off the lock on the stainless-steel cap. To my surprise, I saw it was a loaded hole," Mr. Lee said.
He detached a detonating cord, then filled the hole with rocks and poured water down the shaft until it overflowed.
Mr. Lee said the RCMP came to see him yesterday morning.
"They said they didn't think I needed to be arrested right then, but I expect I will be arrested," he said.
Mr. Lee said he couldn't see any other way to stop the blast.
"It's one kilometre from my float-house, where I live with my family, and there are five sandhill crane nests nearby.
"We live in a world where there are no due process ways to deal with environmental issues ... and we have an environmentally illiterate government," he said.
"If you want to affect real change, my experience is you just have to go out there and do it ... [through]non-violent civil disobedience."
After vandalizing the site, he posted notice of his actions on the Web under the heading Monkeywrenching the Batholiths.
RCMP in Bella Bella could not be reached for comment.
Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Society, said he didn't know the batholith project had continued on land until he heard of Mr. Lee's sabotage.
"I was completely taken by surprise," he said.
Raincoast and several other environmental groups successfully fought to have the project stopped in 2007 because of concerns about the impact on marine mammals.
He said the project remains of concern because it is setting charges close to the water.
"Given the magnitude of the [Denny Island]blast, 1,000 kilograms of TNT, the sound would permeate through bedrock into the marine environment," he said. "There are substantial numbers of humpback whales in that area ... and we also have to be concerned about the direct disturbance to terrestrial species."