Canadian Commune Leader Convicted of Gas Well Bombings
A range war in the Canadian natural gas community has come to an
end with the industry's chief enemy being led out of an Alberta
courtroom in handcuffs to await a potentially long prison sentence
Bearded 58-year-old Wiebo Ludwig, head of a 34-member
back-to-the land commune called Trickle Creek, was convicted of
five charges arising from a bombing campaign against gas wells
operated by a number of Canadian producers. He will await
sentencing behind bars. Accomplice Richard Boonstra was convicted
on one charge and released on bail. The convictions, ranging from
public mischief to possession of explosives, carry penalties of up
to 14 years in jail. Ludwig is expected to go away for some time.
The attacks were on wells producing high volumes of "sour" gas,
laced with lethal hydrogen-sulphide. The substance kills in
atmospheric concentrations of less than one per cent, and the
attacks caused fear and anxiety throughout the gas-rich district
around the commune at Hythe, about 700 miles northwest of the
Canadian gas capital of Calgary.
The industry's defense during the lengthy conflict included
collaboration between one of the chief targets, Alberta Energy Co.,
and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. AEC and the RCMP recruited a
neighbor of Ludwig as an informant and worked together on a sting
operation that included faking an explosion at a gas well. At one
point, Ludwig was caught near an explosion wearing camouflage gear
and with traces of bomb material on his hands. Later, a vehicle
belonging to him exploded in an Edmonton parking lot.
Ludwig's conduct during the case did not help his case. He did
not take the witness stand but held frequent news conferences on
the steps of the courthouse where he was tried, saying his rights
were being abused and he was carrying on a crusade against the gas
industry that he insisted was a health and environmental matter. He
claimed the fight started because sour gas-well emissions caused a
child to be stillborn at Trickle Creek. Canadian criminal courts do
not take kindly to defiance. The judge who presided over the Ludwig
case, Queen's Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman, voiced grave
concerns over his behavior during the trial.
In one famous news clip that made it onto national television in
Canada, Ludwig and a supporter set fire to gas coming out of a
water tap and suggested it was industrial pollution. Hythe Deputy
Mayor Myrna Truax said "people can do this here. Nobody thought
anything of it. There has always been lots of gas in the water."
Hythe calls itself "the town of flowing wells." Water gushes up
when tapped at depths of about 30 meters, and often naturally
tastes strongly of minerals. Gas provides some of the pressure that
drives the flows.
Gordon Jaremko, Calgary
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