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Canadian Commune Leader Convicted of Gas Well Bombings

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 for sabotage.

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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