VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - An energy industry opponent who was convicted of sabotage in Alberta a decade ago has been arrested in connection with recent bombings of natural gas facilities in British Columbia, his lawyer said on Friday.
Wiebo Ludwig has been charged with attempted extortion of EnCana Corp, whose pipelines and natural gas equipment near Dawson Creek, British Columbia, were the subject of six attacks, Ludwig’s lawyer, Paul Moreau, said.
“My information from the RCMP is he is being charged with one count of extortion against EnCana,” Moreau told Reuters.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Ludwig and began searching a large farm they said Ludwig was associated with in Hythe, Alberta, a small rural community located about 25 km (16 miles) from the British Columbia border.
Moreau was waiting for details from the police of evidence against his client. “I can’t connect the dots right now because I‘m still waiting to be told how they connect,” he said.
The British Columbia attacks, which have caused damage but no injuries, are believed to be linked to two anonymous handwritten letters sent to the media that warned EnCana to pull its natural gas operations out of the Dawson Creek area.
The letters, one before the first attack in October 2008, and the other in July shortly after the last attack, complained about the dangers of drilling for sour gas in the area.
Police said the arrest and raid on the farm stemmed from information they received during the autumn of 2009, but declined to give details.
“We cannot say what we are looking for specifically, or what information led us to the location, but we have followed a trail of evidence that ultimately led to the execution of the search warrant,” said Superintendent Lloyd Plante, who heads up the RCMP’s anti-terrorism unit in British Columbia.
Police said the investigation was “far from over,” and a C$1 million ($970,000) reward posted by EnCana for information about who was responsible for the attacks has not been claimed.
EnCana said it was pleased with news of the arrest.
Ludwig’s arrest appears to be an about-face for the RCMP, who had said early in the investigation they had no evidence he was involved in the recent bombings and were soliciting his help in contacting the saboteur.
Investigators had maintained they believed the bomber lived in the area of the attacks, and complained that some local residents who had information were not cooperating.
Ludwig, a former Christian Reformed minister, served 18 months in prison for sabotage against natural gas facilities near his Alberta property that were operated by EnCana predecessor Alberta Energy Co, and other companies, in the 1990s.
Ludwig contended he was a victim of “big oil” and government, which he said tried to cover up his claims that emissions from the flaring of sour gas had caused sickness and miscarriages among family members.
Ludwig wrote an open letter to the bomber in September saying that the attacks had prompted public discussion about the dangers of gas production, but urging an end to the attacks.
Some residents of the Dawson Creek area said that while they were opposed to the bombings, they were sympathetic to bomber’s anger at the energy industry, which has been rapidly developing the area’s natural gas deposits.
Additional reporting Scott Haggett and Jeffrey Jones; editing by Peter Galloway