Give him a red suit with fur fringe, a stub of a pipe and a sack and one of Alberta’s most infamous environmental radicals could pass for Santa Claus. Or someone’s kindly grandfather. Which he is (the grandfather part, for sure; the kindly part depends on who you talk to).
But despite the beard and mane of white hair, Weibo Ludwig is no benevolent Santa Claus. He is a man with a mission.
Since 1991, Ludwig has been making a name for himself and his Trickle Creek family as an ardent opponent of gas exploration in northern Alberta. Most specifically, Ludwig and his friend, Richard Boonstra, have protested against sour gas wells in the immediate Hythe area.
When he first started making noise, citing anecdotal evidence of birth irregularities and rising health problems, it was easy to paint Ludwig as an environmental crusader – provided you could ignore the cultish fervor with which he approached the rest of his life. But he was – and remains – charming and personable. Ignoring his darker side was not as hard as it could be.
Then came the spate of vandalism against oil and gas installations in the region, and people started to wonder if the folks at the Trickle Creek colony were somehow behind the acts. Still, though, many were willing to turn a blind eye. Maybe it was because they believed, as Ludwig does, that the flaring of sour gas is a serious health threat. More likely, they didn’t think of the standoffish clan as a threat.
His popularity among the anti-gas crusaders grew. When he was charged with bombing a series of gas facilities, money for his defence flowed in. Lawyers and environmentalists alike stood behind him.
Until June 20, 1999 and the shooting death of teenager Karman Willis.
Whether Weibo or another of his family members fired the fatal bullet became a moot point in a matter of seconds. If they odd lifestyle hadn’t made them pariahs enough, this one act turned them into villains.
Of course, that’s what they had been the whole time.
Make no mistake: Ludwig fervently believes he is in the right. God is on his side in Trickle Creek’s fight against gas exploration. He is articulate, passionate, charming – and dangerous.
Even if Weibo (like Cher, he’s so famous he doesn’t even need a last name, at least not in Alberta) has kept his hands clean since his 2001 conviction, he still inspires people in his name. His outlook on gas exploration has changed little. Just this weekend he was on the protest line, setting up camp near a Hythe area well. His presence draws attention, incites discontent and creates conflict. The attention is good, the other two are problematic.
Like Annie Lennox sings, You don’t mess with a missionary man. Anyone honestly trying to effect change in the way gas companies offgas sour wells would do well to remember that, and leave Weibo behind them.