when things go bump in the night

The attempts in early October to bomb some natural gas pipelines and wellheads in northeastern British Columbia are not being called acts of…

The attempts in early October to bomb some natural gas pipelines and wellheads in northeastern British Columbia are not being called acts of terrorism but rather acts of violence.

The difference between the two is hard to tell.

A note left with local British Columbia media but addressed to the fossil fuel companies stated that “we will no longer negotiate with terrorists which you are as you keep endangering our families with crazy expansion of deadly gas wells in our homelands.”

In the days after the note was delivered, natural gas infrastructure was hit by three small explosions.

This was incredibly foolish, as natural gas can be extremely toxic.

Any explosion could have caused a gas release that could have killed someone, either the saboteurs, employees of the fossil fuel companies or anyone living within close proximity.

But it certainly got everyone’s attention.

The RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team has been called in and investigations are no doubt ongoing into these acts of violence.

But it is more than just an act of violence. It is an act of terror.

Whoever wrote the note used the term terrorism, and the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team tends to focus on rather serious crimes, such as terrorism.

And by terrorism let us remember that the perpetrators are referring to the activities of the fossil fuel companies.

Therein lies the core of the problem.

As someone or some group was driven to such extremes to do such acts, perhaps it would be better to look at what the fossil fuel companies are up to and not only just concentrate on catching whoever is doing the acts of violence.

It doesn’t excuse the actions of the bombers, but it might prevent future acts.

As Gwynne Dyer, the Canadian military analyst, notes: “Terrorism is a technique, not a country or an ideology, and having a war on terrorism makes about as much sense as having a war on carpentry.”

The concept is not to fight terror, but to change the root causes the motivates the need to do such terror or violence.

Not that this column is about advocating violence or terrorism.

It is an attempt to understand why whoever wrote the note mentions the word terrorism and why they would be driven to acts of violence.

It is also about why the fossil fuel companies do not, at least in public, admit to understanding why things go bump in the middle of the night at the northeastern British Columbia fossil fuel facilities.

The reason fossil fuel activities rouse such antagonism is easy to determine.

Oil and gas exploration, development and extraction is an ugly festering sore on the landscape.

There is no way around it.

Modern society is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and in order to ensure an adequate supply of it the land has to be torn apart to get at it.

Seismic lines are cut across the forest, fragmenting habitat.

Private property owners cannot refuse fossil fuel activity on their land as they do not have subsurface rights.

Farmers just have to watch as survey crews traipse over prime pastures.

If wells are to be drilled, access roads are put in while drilling mud and flaring contaminate the land and air.

The very nature of seismic crews and drilling operations usually mean a lot of young men with a lot of money letting off steam in small community bars and hotels for a few weeks and then moving on.

It is a recipe for economic boom and bust, a recipe for social brawling and abuse.

Should oil or gas be found, wells and storage tanks get put in.

Pipelines go everywhere, over private property and with minimal rents paid to the landowner.

There is always the fear of poisonous gas leaks, or oil spills that contaminate land and water.

All of this happens within a regulatory regime that tries to encourage best practices and attempts to deal with cumulative impacts.

The emphasis is on tries and attempts, and not on regulatory and legislative enforcement.

The end result tends to be an ecological nightmare.

Still, this type of activity is amazing on two fronts.

First, that violence against the fossil fuel infrastructure does not happen more often.

Second, everyone acts so surprised when it does happen.

Yukoners should perhaps be aware of these issues as the fossil fuel industry is headed this way.

It is well established in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

The fossil fuel companies are coming, it is just a matter of time.

With development of appropriate regulations and dictating where and when fossil fuel activity can happen it might be possible to prevent in the Yukon the situation that caused the violence in northeastern British Columbia.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.