Book: Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil

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Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War Against Big Oil

Author: Andrew Nikiforuk
Publisher: Macfarlane Walter & Ross

At Trickle Creek in northern Alberta, Wiebo Ludwig thought he’d buffered his tiny religious community from civilization, but in 1990 civilization came calling. A Calgary oil company proposed to drill directly in view of the farm’s communal dining room.

Ludwig hadn’t realized his land ownership didn’t include mineral rights. He wrote letters, petitioned, forced public hearings, and discovered the provincial regulator cared little about landowners.

After the oil company accidentally vented raw sour gas, Ludwig’s wife miscarried. Nearby parcels of land were clear-cut. Ludwig’s northern boundary became a highway for semi-trailers loaded with drilling equipment. Seismic crews raced up and down his road. More sour gas wells popped up. People defending their property rights gradually turned into monkeywrenching terrorists.

Hostilities began with nails on the roads, sabotaged well sites, and road blockades. They culminated in death threats, shootings, and bombings. The Mounties recruited a Ludwig acolyte as an informant, and in an attempt to establish the man’s credibility the RCMP itself blew up an equipment shack at a well site.

Ludwig was eventually charged with 19 different counts of mischief, vandalism and possession of explosives and later convicted on five charges.

While he was out on bail, joyriding teenagers went to Trickle Creek at four o’clock one morning. Someone fired at one of the pickups, killing 16-year-old Karman Willis. Despite a lengthy investigation, the RCMP has not laid charges.

This is a taut, careful work of nonfiction that reads like a thriller and raises unsettling questions about individual rights, corporate power, police methods, and government accountability. The reader comes to question whether Wiebo Ludwig can be dismissed as a zealot. And to ask: What would I have done in his shoes?


Wiebo Ludwig came to Alberta’s Peace River region in 1985 looking for what Saboteurs author Andrew Nikiforuk calls “a respite from the storms of life.” The Dutch-born Ludwig had been the leader of a Christian Reformed Church in Goderich, Ontario, but much of his community rebelled against his stern ideas about the place of God in a man’s life and the role of women in a man’s household. Still, Ludwig didn’t know what trouble was until his entourage, which mostly comprised his ever-growing flock of younger Ludwigs and a few sympathizers attracted by his cause, decamped for Alberta and bought a place called Trickle Creek—in oil country. Saboteurs details the long and nasty conflict between Ludwig and the oil and gas industry over its legal right to drill on private land, regardless of landowners’ concerns over the contamination of air and water by the pollutants that spew out of the wells.

In this provocative real-life thriller, Big Oil is the arrogant and irresistible force surprised to find itself up against a formidable opponent: namely, the Bible-thumping, tough-as-nails Ludwig, who “knew that God called upon individuals when His people were challenged.” By the early ’90s, acts of vandalism and sabotage against the industry had become common near Trickle Creek, and Nikiforuk details how the RCMP and industry watchdog organizations failed to address the problem until it was out of control. Their subsequent efforts to deal with Ludwig only exacerbated matters—the RCMP even faked a bomb attack on a well site to improve the credibility of an informant close to Ludwig. While the bearded preacher, who served nearly two years in jail after being convicted of five offences, hardly comes off as a saint in Saboteurs, Nikiforuk is clearly sympathetic to his plight. Moreover, the author makes the convincing case that Big Oil’s refusal to address the valid health and environment concerns raised by Ludwig could inspire future eco-terrorism. —Jason Anderson

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