Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War Against Big Oil

by Andrew Nikiforuk

Strong personalities evoke strong reactions. Alberta farmer Wiebo Ludwig has been portrayed as a tireless campaigner against the depredations of big oil and a homicidal terrorist, as a religious patriarch who only wants to protect his flock and a charismatic cult leader who bullies his brainwashed followers, mainly women and children, into submission. In Andrew Nikiforuk’s capable hands he becomes a tragic figure, an idealist who uses every available weapon to fight a losing battle against encroaching modernity, here in the form of profit-mad oil companies.
Nikiforuk is openly sympathetic to Ludwig’s cause – the book is dedicated to those who live downwind of oilwells – and he ascribes the noblest motives to the scourge of Hythe, Alberta. Readers are presented with a man whose desire to lead a clean, decent life is thwarted by a greedy, irresponsible industry. An unlikely Ralph Nader, the neoconservative Nikiforuk maintains that the main oilpatch players consistently deny (à la big tobacco) the obvious health risks of burning off impure gas while the financially dependent province sits complacently in the industry’s pocket.
Ideological biases aside, Nikiforuk painstakingly details how Ludwig’s motives led him to mastermind a hazardous, illegal, and costly vandalism campaign, and, eventually, to block the investigation of a fatal shooting on his property. And although the magnetic Ludwig dominates the book, Nikiforuk’s account is enriched by his careful sketches of the key players in the conflict. From the parents who make a shrine of their dead daughter’s bedroom to a police officer who loses his job for trying to resolve the escalating dispute through mediation, Nikiforuk shows the large and small losses incidental to Ludwig’s crusade against his drilling neighbours.
The community’s losses have caused one local resident to anticipate that Ludwig may become a bogeyman whose very name will someday be used to scare children into goodness. Saboteurs presents the man behind the increasingly extreme, folklore-inducing media depictions.