Monday, October 27, 2008

Possible Eco-terrorist Attacks on Canadian Gas Pipeline

According to a recent blog posting on, two separate explosive attacks on a ‘sour gas’ pipeline near Dawson Creek, BC are being blamed on ‘eco-terrorists’ by the “former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service”. The RCMP has not been willing to call the bombings ‘terrorist attacks’, preferring the term vandalism. Vandals, however, do not usually warn their targets to get out of town.

Stop the ‘Deadly Gas’ 

The term eco-terrorist covers a lot of ground. This does not look or sound like one of the better known groups like the Animal Liberation Front or the Earth Liberation Front. The letters sent to local newspapers before the first bombing did not name any group. Instead the letters just attacked the energy companies for their ‘deadly’ gas wells in the area and called those energy companies ‘terrorists’. And, it warned them to shut down their gas wells and get out of town.

The ‘deadly gas’ is natural gas being pumped out of the ground. It is called ‘sour gas’ because it is contaminated with relatively small amounts of hydrogen sulfide. Well, ‘relatively small amounts of hydrogen sulfide’ is misleading. With concentrations of about 0.07% in the gas, it does lend some toxicity concerns to significant releases of this material. Presumably this is why the letter writer complained that “as you keep on endangering our families with crazy expansion of deadly gas wells in our homelands” according to the local paper.

Eco-terrorists Attacks 

This could very easily be a single person rather than an organization conducting this ‘terror campaign’. This would not be unusual for a so-called eco-terrorist attack. They tend to be executed by small groups and individuals outside of the control of any easily tracked group. This makes these groups harder to pre-empt since they are so difficult to detect and penetrate. The other characteristic of a eco-terrorist attack is that these bombings were conducted in remote areas were there was little possibility of collateral damage.

There was also a certain level of escalation in the two attacks, with the second attack being slightly more ‘effective’ in that the gas line was actually damaged slightly. Further escalation can probably be expected if there is no ‘appropriate’ response from the gas companies.

Energy Infrastructure Attacks 

This is the second time in a year and a half that there have been energy infrastructure attacks by terrorists in the Americas. Last year there were the very successful attacks on oil pipelines in Mexico by native separatists. Now this eco-terrorist attack on gas pipelines in Canada.

We have not yet seen state sponsored groups or al Qaeda resort to such attacks in the Americas. However, the recent plunge in the price of crude is certainly going to hurt some countries (Iran or Venezuela for instance) that are known to have associations with a variety of terrorist groups. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that groups sponsored by these countries could try to destabilize the oil markets (and raise crude prices) by attacking oil infrastructure in this country.

Energy Infrastructure Vulnerability 

These attacks point out the vulnerability of energy infrastructure, it is widely distributed and thus vulnerable to attack. A successful attack can be visually impressive and have wide spread impact away from the attack site.

Pipelines are especially vulnerable to these attacks because they are hard to defend, as are remote pump sites. Storage sites may be less vulnerable, but promise much more impressive ‘results’ from a successful attack.

Ethanol transportation links are equally vulnerable. Railcars in transit or sitting at transloading stations are just as vulnerable as pipelines. And ethanol has a wide variety of social, economic and environmental detractors. It is not hard to imagine that this legitimate opposition could spawn individuals or small groups that would resort to violence to stop the spread of ethanol use.

To date there have not been any successful terrorist attacks on energy infrastructure in the United States. In today’s world that is not necessarily a predictor of continued safety.

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